MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Wang Lu and Seattle Modern Orchestra

Composer Wang Lu, whose “The Nothing Man and Other Tales” will have its premiere with Seattle Modern Orchestra June 3. (Matt Zugale)

This weekend, Seattle Modern Orchestra gives the world premiere of Wang Lu’s The Nothing Man and Other Tales. I wrote about this wonderful composer for The Seattle Times:

“I’ve always been interested in storytelling,” says composer and pianist Wang Lu. “We all crave stories.”

Wang’s latest composition, “The Nothing Man and Other Tales,” taps into this human hunger by recounting a series of stories she discovered in a children’s book that her daughter has been enjoying. Her musical treatment transforms these tales into adventures for adult ears.


Filed under: commissions, music news, Seattle Modern Orchestra

Salvatore Sciarrino’s Venere e Adone

Staatsoper Hamburg is presenting the world premiere production of Salvatore Sciarrino‘s 15th opera, Venere e Adone, 28 May-8 June.

Drawn from Ovid’s retelling of the myth of Venus and Adonis in Metamorphoses and Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, Sciarrino’s new opera is a meditation on love and death. The cast features American countertenor Randall Scotting in the role of Adonis, who is pursued by Venus, the goddess of love, sung by soprano Layla Claire.  Staatsoper Hamburg’s General Music Director, Kent Nagano, conducts and Georges Delnon directs.

“Adonis is probably the liveliest character in the whole opera,” says Scotting. “He is youthful, boisterous, and concerned only with hunting and making love. The music Sciarrino composed for him really embodies these qualities, especially in his big hunting scene. There are aspects of the opera everyone will recognize, but it also feels new and relevant today.”

an atmospheric and inventive opera that often surrounds the audience in the nuanced sounds of the natural world.  Mimicking the cycle of life and death, sounds arise from nothing and just as quickly disappear, leaving the listener engaged, interested, and waiting on the edge of their seats for the next surprise.  ‘Adonis is probably the liveliest character in the whole opera.  He is youthful, boisterous, and concerned only with hunting and making love.  The music Sciarrino composed for him really embodies these qualities, especially in his big hunting scene.  There are aspects of the opera everyone will recognize, but it also feels new and relevant today,’ said Scotting of his role in the opera.

From the Staatsoper Hamburg site:

“Sounds from the silence. They come closer, move and dissolve into darkness. Their nature is being and non-being, coming into being and passing away – the same as all living beings in the eternal illusion of life and death. They are sounds as they surround people, a music close to nature. They tell of mythical figures: Venus and Mars, who once begat Cupid. Cupid, who is now to avenge his betrayed father. The beautiful Adonis, whose love for Venus is his undoing. And above all: the monster who knows no affection, no love, no hate, least of all himself. It waits, unknown and deadly, maltreated by the voices of the world. An ancient story winds through the thicket of mythological entanglements and finds new paths. Who will triumph, love or death?”

Filed under: music news, new opera

Seattle ProMusica Sings Ethel Smyth & W.A. Mozart

For the grand finale to their 50th-anniversary season, Karen P. Thomas and Seattle Pro Musica will pair major works for chorus, soloists, and orchestra by Ethel Smyth and Wolfgang Amadé Mozart at St. James Cathedral this Saturday, May 20, at 8 pm. Tickets here. You can also register for free access to an online stream here, which will be available starting May 27 at 7:30pm until June 26, 2023.

Thomas will lead Seattle Pro Musica and the orchestra, plus soloists Tess Altiveros (soprano), Dawn Padula (mezzo), Zachary Finkelstein (tenor), and Charles Robert Stephens (bass) in Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D (1891) and Mozart’s unfinished “Great” Mass in C minor, K. 427 (1782-83).

Thomas provides the following commentary:

Mass in D by Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)

“The exact worth of my music will probably not be known till naught remains of the writer but sexless dots and lines on ruled paper,” Ethel Smyth wrote in 1928. It seems she was right, and her music is only recently beginning to get the attention it has so long deserved. Ethel Smyth was a radical and a non-conformist from a young age.

Born into an upper-middle class family, she rebelled against the restrictions of her Victorian-era girlhood. Her father strongly opposed her desire to study music – so she locked herself in her room and refused to eat until he capitulated. She began studying at the Leipzig Conservatory in 1887 at the age of 19. Leipzig was a great center of music activity, and while there Smyth met influential composers such as Antonín Dvořák, Clara Schumann, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Edvard Grieg, and Johannes Brahms. Her best-known work, The Wreckers, was performed in London by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1909. In 1903 she became the first woman to have a work performed by the Metropolitan Opera – Der Wald (The Forest), and in 1922 she became the first female composer to be granted Damehood.

“She was a force of nature, a feminist composer of phenomenal talents, whose music set records and won great acclaim. She had passionate affairs with prominent women – including the celebrated suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst – and a lasting friendship with Virginia Woolf,” writes Beverley D’Silva of the BBC. “Her unstoppable spirit shocked polite society…her activism landed her in prison.”

All her life she fought to have her music performed in the face of misogyny and male critics who dismissed her as a “lady composer.” Dr Amy Zigler, assistant professor of music at Salem College, wrote that if Smyth and others wrote music that was “energetic, loud, forceful or virile” it was damned as “unnatural and unbecoming of a woman.” If they wrote music that was “graceful, soft, lyrical or sentimental, it was deemed to be just ‘parlour’ music for young women to play at home – unimportant or inferior.” While fighting such sexist attitudes, Smyth won the support of conductors like Sir Thomas Beecham, Bruno Walter, and Adrian Boult.

In 1910, at the age of 52, Smyth joined the Women’s Social and Political Union to campaign for women’s suffrage, giving up her music career for two years to further the cause. She and Emmeline Pankhurst went on a campaign in March 1911 in response to adverse comments by a secretary of state about the Votes for Women campaign; they broke windows at the Houses of Parliament, were arrested, and sent to Holloway Prison. On visiting her in prison, Thomas Beecham arrived in the courtyard at Holloway to see the spectacle of a “noble company of martyrs marching round it and singing lustily their war chant, while the composer, beaming approbation from an overlooking upper window, beat time in almost Bacchic frenzy with a toothbrush”. This “war chant” was the work Smyth wrote and dedicated to Pankhurst, The March of the Women, which became the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement.

Smyth composed the Mass in D following a renewal of her Anglican faith, stimulated by reading The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis, while she was ill in Munich on Christmas Eve 1889. The book belonged to her Catholic friend Pauline Trevelyan, to whom Smyth dedicated the Mass. She composed much of it while a guest of Empress Eugénie at Cape Martin near Monaco, in the summer of 1891.

The Mass in D was premiered in January 1893 with about 1000 performers in the enormous Albert Hall in front of an audience of 12,000 people. The “Gloria” was performed as a festive finale at the end of the Mass, as she specified. In spite of the enthusiastic reception at the premiere, the work languished and did not receive a second performance until 30 years later. Smyth blamed this on prejudice against female composers.

The Mass was revived in February 1924, conducted by Adrian Boult. George Bernard Shaw reviewed the performance, and thought the Mass “magnificent.” In the years following, it was performed a number of times. In 1934 a performance of the Mass conducted by Thomas Beecham, attended by Queen Mary, was the culmination of the Festival Concerts celebrating Smyth’s 75th birthday. By this time, Smyth had lost her hearing and was suffering from tinnitus – she turned from music to writing, producing 10 mostly autobiographical books. She died in Woking, Surrey, in 1944, aged 86.

In her late seventies, writing in the final memoir As Time Went On, Smyth declares that the musician in her “won through in the end,” in spite of her deafness:

“If you are still in possession of your senses, gradually getting accustomed, as some people do, to a running accompaniment of noises in your head; if instead of shrinking from the very thought of music you suddenly become conscious of desire towards it… why, then anything may happen… and once more you begin to dream dreams.”

Great Mass in C minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91)

As with his other monumental work, the Requiem, Mozart left the Mass in C minor incomplete, missing portions of the Credo and the entire Agnus Dei. It is certainly his most ambitious and complex sacred work – even in its unfinished state, it is immense in conception. The choral writing ranges from four-part and five-part choruses to the eight-part Osanna, and includes an impressive fugue, Cum Sancto Spiritu. The contrapuntal writing for chorus clearly shows the influence of Mozart’s study of the music of Bach and Handel, while the writing for solo voices owes much to his fluency in Italian operatic style.

From the age of 16 to 24, Mozart was in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg – an appointment which had been secured by his father, Leopold. Restrictions on the duration and dimension of music in the liturgy, along with severe limitations on his ability to travel to the musical centers of Europe to advance his career were a source of frustration for the young composer. He eventually asked to be released from the archbishop’s service in 1781. The break with the archbishop and Mozart’s subsequent move to Vienna was also a break with his father. His courtship of the young soprano Constanze Weber further widened the rift, and on August 4, 1782 the couple was married at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, without having received Leopold’s blessing.

Mozart began writing the Mass in C minor in the summer of 1782, probably shortly after his marriage to Constanze. He mentioned the work in a letter to his father, dated January 4, 1783, with an indication that it was half finished. Wolfgang and Constanze arrived in Salzburg in July 1783, and the Mass in C minor was premiered on October 26 at the Benedictine Abbey Church of St. Peter, with Constanze singing the soprano solos. By all accounts, the visit did not go well – after this visit, the composer never returned to Salzburg. And though the music of the Mass in C minor was later recycled as the cantata Davidde Penitente, the work itself faded into obscurity, to be revived only in the 20th century.

Filed under: Uncategorized, choral music, Mozart, Seattle Pro Musica, Ethel Smyth

Piano Fest in Lucerne

This evening begins a new mini-spring festival presented by Lucerne Festival: lasting through Sunday, Piano Fest is curated by Igor Levit and features Levit along with his colleagues Fred Hersch and his jazz trio, Johanna Summer, Anna Vinnitskaya, Alexei Volodin, and Mert Yalniz.

As the host of Piano Fest, Igor Levit will be involved in a variety of configurations: in a duo with Igor Volodin, in a joint concert with the jazz musicians Fred Hersch and Johanna Summer, and in a very personal solo recital. The last named will feature such works as Four Serious Songs, in which Johannes Brahms reflects on transience and passing away, along with Sergei Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata, composed during the Second World War, and a brand-new commission written by Fred Hersch, titled Songs Without Words.

Of Fred Hersch, All About Jazz observes: “When it comes to the art of solo piano in jazz, there are two classes of performers: Fred Hersch and everybody else.” Hersch will perform a solo evening and will also appear in a trio with Clemens van der Feen (bass) and Joey Baron (drums).

Piano Fest closes with a meetup between Igor Levit and his master student Mert Yalniz, Fred Hersch, and Johanna Summer: classics like Beethoven’s Appassionata and Schumann’s Waldszenen will be juxtaposed with jazz improvisations.

Complete program here.

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, music news, piano

Music of Remembrance at 25

Mina Miller, Music of Remembrance founder and artistic director. (Ben VanHouten)

My story for the Seattle Times about Music of Remembrance at 25, which will present a double bill of one-act operas by Jake Heggie this weekend:

Mina Miller is convinced that music can make a difference in the world.

“I am the child of parents whose entire families were annihilated in the Holocaust, so I grew up with a visceral awareness of the power of memory — of the stories that need to be told…”


Filed under: commissions, Jake Heggie, Music of Remembrance, new opera, Seattle Times

Byron Schenkman & Friends: Season Finale

To celebrate their 10th anniversary, Byron Schenkman & Friends have been offering an extraordinary season of new music, revealing juxtapositions, and, simply, great music making. On Sunday evening, 14 May at 7pm, they will give the season finale. The Jasper Quartet joins Schenkman for this program of Romantic gems by Antonín Dvořák, Alexander Glazunov, and Florence Beatrice Price. See below for program details. Tickets are available here.

Recognized as one of the leading American string quartets on the performance stage today, the Jasper String Quartet has been described by Gramophone as “flawless in ensemble and intonation, expressively assured and beautifully balanced.”

Byron Schenkman is a queer Jewish keyboard player and scholar with a background in historical performance and a passion for connecting people through music. In addition to performing live on piano, harpsichord, and fortepiano, Byron can be heard on more than forty CDs, in numerous online and in person performances with Byron Schenkman & Friends. 

Now in its tenth season, Byron Schenkman & Friends brings a diverse set of 21st-century perspectives to artistically excellent ensemble music, inspired by European traditions of the 17th through 19th centuries. 







Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936):

Elegy in G Minor, op. 44, for viola and piano

Florence Price (1887-1953):

String Quartet no. 2 in A Minor 

Andante cantabile 

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904):

Quintet in A Major, op. 81 

Allegro, ma non tanto
Dumka: Andante con moto 
Scherzo (Furiant): Molto vivace – Poco tranquillo 
Finale: Allegro 

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, music news

Judith Cohen and the Governor’s Chamber Music Series

left to right: Hal Grossman, Judith Cohen, and David Burgess

Pianist Judith Cohen, a Steinway artist and one of Seattle’s musical treasures, presents her latest program as longtime Artistic Director of The Governor’s Chamber Music Series. Titled Small Plates: Tasty Musical Tapas from around the World, the concert features Cohen at the keyboard with colleagues David Burgess on guitar and Hal Grossman on violin and will be presented in Bellevue this weekend before the Governor’s Mansion performance in Olympia.

The Bellevue performance begins at 7.30 on May 13 at Resonance Events in Bellevue. Tickets here.

You can also experience this program in the beautiful setting of the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia on Monday, May 15, at 6.45 pm. Tickets here.


Judith Cohen made her European recital debut in 2002, performing two solo recitals in Budapest, Hungary, and since then has returned three times for concert tours of Hungary. She has performed solo recitals in Mexico, under the sponsorship of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. Critic Robert Somerlott of the Mexico City News hailed her as “an artist of unusual talent who captivated the audience with both her musicianship and stage presence.” She has performed solo and chamber music recitals throughout the Pacific Northwest, in Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Kentucky and Texas. She has also been presented in solo recitals by the Dame Myra Hess Recital Series in both Chicago and Los Angeles, and by the Florence Conservatory of Music in Italy.

Violinist Hal Grossman has been hailed by critics for his “tremendous virtuosic technique” and “outstanding artistic sense”. As concerto soloist, he has appeared with American, European, and Canadian orchestras including the Rochester Phil Harmonica, the North Carolina Symphony, Polish Symphonette, the Illinois Lima, Guelph, and Battle Creek Symphonies. He was the Grand Award Winner of the Lima Young Artist Competition and Silver Medalist of the International Stulberg Competition. Mr. Grossman also received First Prize Awards at the prestigious International Cleveland Quartet Competition and the National Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. He has performed for the Royal Highnesses, Prince Charles and Princess Diana in his New York debut at Carnegie Hall.

Classical guitarist David Burgess studied music at Mexico City’s Estudio de Arte Guitarrìstico under the noted Argentine guitarist Manuel López Ramos, subsequently landing a full scholarship to study in Italy with Oscar Ghiglia. An occasional pupil of Andrés Segovia throughout the mid-’80s, Burgess also took top honors in the Andrés Segovia Fellowship Competition in New York City, and placed first in the Mexico City’s Ponce International Competition, Toronto’s Guitar ’81 competition and Munich’s 31st International Music Competition. A onetime instructor at the University of Washington and the Cornish Institute of the Arts, in time Burgess settled in New York City, releasing his solo debut Silver Nuggets and Fool’s Gold.

The Governor’s Mansion Foundation, with more than 200 members, is an all-volunteer, non-profit, non-partisan organization, that honors the historical and cultural importance of the Washington State Governor’s Mansion by maintaining and enhancing furnishings and art for the public rooms of the Mansion, educating the public about the Mansion and its history, and advocating on its behalf. GMF is not affiliated with the Governor or the Governor’s office. For more information on GMF go to

Filed under: Judith Cohen, music news, pianists

Thibaudet and the Colburn Ensemble in Berlin

Jean-Yves Thibaudet and an ensemble from the Colburn School perform a chamber program this evening at Boulez-Saal in Berlin.

Frank Gehry, architect of Boulez-Saal and a friend of Daniel Barenboim, has also designed a 100,000 square-foot expansion of the Colburn School campus in downtown LA, including a 1,000-seat, in-the-round performance space, a studio theater, dance studios, and public gardens and green spaces. Reuniting with Gehry for that project is another name familiar to Berliners: Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics, who served as acoustician for Boulez-Saal (along with other Gehry buildings, including Disney Concert Hall). The new Colburn performance hall, expected to open to the public in 2025, will have parallels with Boulez-Saal.

I wrote about tonight’s program here.

Filed under: architecture, chamber music, music news, Pierre Boulez Saal

LA Master Chorale’s Lagrime

The Meany Center at University of Washington presents the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s production of Lagrime di San Pietro by Orlando di Lasso on Saturday evening, with Peter Sellars directing and Grant Gershon conducting. My program essay for the performance can be found here.

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….


Filed under: early music, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Peter Sellars

Composing Inclusion: Juilliard and New York Philharmonic

A new model for promoting diversity in the concert hall through a multifaceted collaboration among composers, performers, and educators reaches one of its first milestones this weekend. The inaugural orchestral concert of Composing Inclusion, a partnership between the Preparatory Division, the New York Philharmonic, and American Composers Forum, takes place on May 6 at the renovated David Geffen Hall.

My preview of this event for the Juilliard Journal is here.

Here’s my profile of James Díaz, whose and does the Moon also fall? is among the new commissions.

The program:

Jordyn Davis
As I AM (World premiere—Juilliard Preparatory Division Co-Commission with the New York Philharmonic and American Composers Forum)

James Díaz
and does the Moon also fall? (World premiere—Juilliard Preparatory Division Co-Commission with the New York Philharmonic and American Composers Forum)

Trevor Weston
Subwaves (World premiere—Juilliard Preparatory Division Co-Commission with the New York Philharmonic and American Composers Forum)

Jordyn Davis’ and James Diaz’ commissions are part of Composing Inclusion: a collaboration between the New York Philharmonic, American Composers Forum, and Juilliard’s Preparatory Division, made possible with funding from the Sphinx Venture Fund.

Trevor Weston’s work was co-commissioned by American Composers Forum, Juilliard’s Preparatory Division, and the New York Philharmonic. It was funded, in part, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Filed under: Juilliard, music news

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