MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Juilliard’s Focus 2022: The Making of an American Music, 1899-1948

Tonight is the opening program in Juilliard’s weeklong Focus 2022 Festival, which will tackle the theme The Making of an American Music, 1899-1948. And all events will be livestreamed through Juilliard LIVE on the school’s website.

I had the privilege of editing the program book and can attest that these carefully curated programs are well worth your attention. From the recent New York Times article on Focus and its founder and director, the remarkable Joel Sachs: “’It blossomed into a kind of monster,’ Sachs said, chuckling. “The program book is 88 pages. But it’s a really interesting period.'” [link to program book]

Filed under: American music, Joel Sachs, Juilliard

Winter Festival

This weekend marks the start of Seattle Chamber Music Society’s two-weekend Winter Festival.

And see the video above for a lecture by Michael Kannen, cellist, founding member of the Brentano String Quartet, and Professor of Chamber Music at the Peabody Institute, about the piano quintets of Antonin Dvořák, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Cesar Franck — all featured this winter.

Filed under: Seattle Chamber Music Society

San Francisco Opera’s 100th Anniversary Season

So it’s now official: San Francisco Opera will launch its centennial season with the world premiere of a new John Adams opera: Antony and Cleopatra, set to the composer’s own libretto culled from Shakespeare’s tragedy and various classical sources (Virgil, Plutarch, etc.). Music Director Eun Sun Kim will conduct the production directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer; the cast will be led by Julia Bullock and Gerald Finley as the lovers, with Paul Appleby, as the young Caesar, Octavius, Alfred Walker as Antony’s confidante Enobarbus, and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong as Octavia (Octavius’ sister and the wife of Antony).

But there’s much more that promises to make this an extraordinary season, with a return to eight mainstage offerings. SFO will present the local premiere of El último sueño de Frida y Diego by Gabriela Lena Frank, an SFO co-commission that will receive its first performances at San Diego Opera in October 2022 before coming to the War Memorial Opera House in June 2023.

There will be new SFO productions of La Traviata directed by Opera San José’s incoming general director Shawna Lucey, Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice featuring countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński in a new production by Matthew Ozawa, and Madame Butterfly directed by Amon Miyamoto and starring Karah Son and Michael Fabiano.

Two operas that received their American premieres in the 1950s are also being featured: Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites and the Richard Strauss masterpiece Die Frau ohne Schatten in a David Hockney production. Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is also part of the lineup, in the Bay Area premiere of the Robert Carsen production. On 16 June 2023, there will additionally be a gala 100th Anniversary Concert.

Complete press release here.

Bookmark for the latest news and updates.

Filed under: John Adams, music news, San Francisco Opera, Uncategorized

And Still More on Dausgaard and the Seattle Symphony…

The first actual in-depth reporting on the disaster that has befallen the Seattle Symphony with Thomas Dausgaard’s sudden departure has just been published at Post Alley.

The formidable Doug McLennan brings powerful journalistic chops to a dismayingly complex story that appears to involve a toxic work environment. Many questions are left unanswered — not least because of the stonewalling he reports, which itself would seem to reinforce the picture painted of an institution out of balance.

I would also add that this story fails to give proper credit to Dausgaard’s predecessor, Ludovic Morlot. He played an undeniably important role in developing the orchestra’s current level of artistic excellence.

I rather like the use of “repotia” here — the same rhetorical device Shakespeare uses in “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…”: “Again though, when a new leader comes in, culture inevitably changes, and there’s almost always turnover among staff.”

So sad that the fallout from all of this will inevitably affect these amazing musicians for some time to come — just as we’re coming out of the pandemic…

Filed under: music news, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Strained Relations

in happier days…

After the bombshell that dropped on Friday, we hear a response from Thomas Dausgaard via Javier Herndández’s report in The New York Times on the Thomas Dausgaard-Seattle Symphony breakup: “I felt personally not safe,” Dausgaard said, providing few specifics as he offered his first public comments on his abrupt resignation, which the orchestra announced on Friday. “I felt threatened.”

According to Hernández’s report: “Dausgaard said he felt the culture of the organization shifted and became ‘ruled by fear.’ At one point, he said, an employee of the orchestra was pressured to make negative comments about him to the administration. (The symphony denies the accusation.)”

The irony is that, as far as I could tell, Dausgaard and the musicians still had an impressive chemistry together, even after the long absence due to visa restrictions and whatever else might have been responsible — as I noted in what turns out, in retrospect, to have been a de facto farewell concert.

The pandemic obviously exacerbated tensions that seem to have already been simmering, as Hernández points out. What a distressing turn of events — just when SSO was playing at such a high level. Along with Dausgaard and Jaap van Zweden, who are some other major classical music figures who have so radically reassessed their career commitments?

NYT story

Filed under: music news, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Thomas Dausgaard Steps Down as Seattle Symphony’s Music Director

This bombshell has just arrived: Thomas Dausgaard is resigning from his position as Seattle Symphony’s music director. Here’s the official press release, which leaves many questions unanswered:

SEATTLE, WA – The Seattle Symphony honors Thomas Dausgaard, whose defining 12-year partnership alongside the Symphony comes to a close with the announcement today of his decision to step away from his role as its Music Director, ahead of his originally planned final season in 2022/2023. Dausgaard, who appeared regularly as a guest conductor since 2010 and became Principal Guest Conductor in 2014, began his tenure as Music Director of the Seattle Symphony in 2019. Dausgaard’s collaboration with the Symphony for over a decade has earned widespread acclaim, marked by innovative programming, championing of music by composers of today and Grammy-nominated recordings.


Filed under: music news, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Edgar Moreau’s Sprint to Stardom

My profile of French cellist Edgar Moreau is the cover story of the Jan-Feb 2022 issue of Strings (print only).

Filed under: cello, Strings

John Adams Returns to Seattle

Composer and conductor John Adams returns to Seattle Jan. 6 and 8, his fourth round with Seattle Symphony since making his podium debut here in 2004.  (Musacchio-Ianniello-Pasqualini)
Composer and conductor John Adams returns to Seattle Jan. 6 and 8, his fourth round with Seattle Symphony since making his podium debut here in 2004. (Musacchio-Ianniello-Pasqualini)

Here’s my latest Seattle Times story, about John Adams as composer and conductor:

Seattle Symphony audiences have another reason to be proud of their band…


Filed under: John Adams, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Times

Seattle Pro Musica: love came down

Immense gratitude to Karen P. Thomas and Seattle Pro Musica for an inspired performance last night at Seattle First Baptist Church. These holiday concerts mark their return to live singing for the first time in about two years.

The beautifully curated program featured a thoughtful menu of new choral pieces in a wide range of styles, interspersed with gems by Josquin des Prez in honor of the 500th anniversary of his death. Even singing with special masks, the chorus — performing in its various subgroups and in the larger, full-strength ensemble — filled the space with Seattle Pro Musica’s signature clarity, fullness of color, and meaningful expression.

Personal highlights of this program: Welsh composer Paul Mealor’s moving setting of the e.e. cummings poem i carry your heart, which carried the audience away with its sublime, vulnerable honesty and directness; Afro-Brazilian composer José Mauricio Nunes Garcia’s elegantly voiced setting of Domine Jesu; and First Nations composer Andrew Balfour’s Qilak, an a cappella ode to nature that uses harmony and the resources of the singing voice with great imagination to depict the awe-filling vastness of the Northern landscape.

The program contains many other epiphanies. Seattle Pro Musica will perform a live broadcast this evening at 7.30pm PST (available online thereafter until 31 December). We all need such uplifting experiences more than ever.

love came down

by Christina Rosetti

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Stars and angels gave the sign.
Alleluia. Gloria in excelsis Deo.*

Worship we the Godhead,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Alleluia. Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and love to all,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

*Hallelujah. Glory to God in the highest.

Filed under: choral music, recommended listening, Seattle Pro Musica

John Harbison Reflects on His Retirement

The eminent American composer John Harbison, who turns 83 on 20 December, is retiring from his life-long career on the faculty at MIT. The latest edition of his newsletter offers these reflections:

Arriving reluctantly but alertly at my last day of teaching at MIT, I remember two pieces of advice from the first week, in 1969. From a composer-friend, about the large Introduction to Music lecture: “Don’t be afraid to say what you love.” And from our Director of Music, Klaus Liepmann, as he escorted me down the endless corridor: “We teach our courses as if they are equal in the student’s learning experience to physics. We have poor facilities, we have  large ambition, and a new building is on the way.”

Well, in the last instance he was premature, but his vision for what was then a small enterprise was relentlessly bold and demanding.   I had come from my first teaching experience in a quite different environment, Reed College, in Portland Oregon, 1968, on the west coast, many student occupations of the administration building, intense teach-ins and demonstrations, no grades given, radically informal behavior and attire, very inquisitive students likely to go on break for a few years. 

I returned to the Boston area to begin two jobs, teaching at MIT (new concepts: drop dates, midterms, grades) and conducting the Cantata Singers (in my previous Boston time I had conducted frequently, but only as a guest—this was a full-time Music Directorship). Like many composers, it took a while to find a way to make beginning courses in Harmony and Counterpoint express the daily happiness I found working with pitches and rhythms.  

But within a year or so I got a fortunate break when our music historian Robert Freeman left to become Director of the Eastman School.  Suddenly we needed coverage in Schütz, Schein, and Bach, and my performance and teaching worlds linked up.  In recent years I have heard from long-ago students thanking me for the “gift” of Schütz, my abiding passion of those years. 

There have been, in a half century, so many episodes that remain very fresh, it is hard to choose. But the invitation from Marcus Thompson to join the coaching force was the major crossing point.  I owe much to the students with whom I collaborated as we studied and performed with in two complete performances of Bach’s Musical Offering.  I will never forget the Pierrot Lunaire, staged, in an English translation by the staff-member singer, with one of the performers playing viola for the first time!  Or the two mountings of the Domenico Scarlatti Stabat Mater for ten solo singers and continuo group of four, an un-conducted half hour with about fifteen tricky tempo changes.

For at least fifteen years, Jean Rife and I coached—alternately and sometimes together—a self-recruiting group of madrigal singers (probably in that period the only such group in Boston). Finding their own replacements, and generating consistent initiative and enthusiasm, this cohort performed, over a couple of years, the entire Schütz Italian madrigals, the complete sixth book of Monteverdi madrigals, an entire Gesualdo concert (Jean took on that one), and Byrd’s giant motet Infelix Ego, performed in services both at MIT and at Emmanuel Church.  (This group of singers was characteristically half ROTC students, who shipped out to dangerous places after leaving MIT, part of their preparation some of music’s most beautiful polyphony!) 

My last phase at MIT was a change of scene I owe to Fred Harris, with whom many of us have experienced all kinds of fresh excursions. Fred invited me over to Jazz, where I have spent the last decade. It was fun, and challenging, to write for the first edition of Vocal Jazz Ensemble twenty-some arrangements of standard American Songs, and then later to switch to the Emerson Jazz Players, doing their own composing, their personnel a concentration of some of our most gifted musicians.

We are all in contact with our colleagues at other institutions, and I am sure many of us have noticed that it is not always easy for a group of artists to work and organize together. There are many special advantages to MIT.  We are not expected to perfectly resemble other schools.  We are in a school where making (temporarily?) useless things is part of a respected process.  We are here as artists or artist-scholars, with a growing understanding that our achievements might not “look like” scientific or engineering breakthroughs.  And we have achieved among ourselves a dialogue that along with its fragile moments maintains some resilience and imagination.  

Like my fellow retirees I will miss colleagues, students, the buildings, but I still hope some day to stagger into the New Building to witness, between fresh walls, the typical vigor of MIT Music and Theatre.
                            — JH

Filed under: John Harbison, music news

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