MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

The Death of Klinghoffer at the Met


Here’s my recent essay for the Metropolitan Opera’s Season Book on the most controversial opera of the season:

Behind the Headlines
In the world of opera, it’s common for a new work to take some time to establish its place in the repertoire. Just think of Così fan tutte, written in 1790 but largely ignored until the mid-20th century, or Les Troyens, which didn’t reach the United States until more than a century after its composition. A generation has passed since the 1991 premiere of John Adams’s second opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, but for the most part the work is still known solely by its controversial reputation. Apart from that original production, only two other full stagings have been seen in the U.S., and both of these took place within the past three years (at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2011 and Long Beach Opera in spring 2014).

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Filed under: American opera, John Adams, Metropolitan Opera

A Taste of Josquin

To the extent that anything can be said to be the work of Josquin des Prez — so popular in his time, the gold standard of quality, that his “output” increased enormously after his death thanks to a flurry of false attributions.

Martin Luther remarked: “Josquin is the master of the notes, which must do as he dictates, while other composers must follow what the notes dictate.”

Filed under: Renaissance music

Become Ocean on CD


I had the fortune of spending an afternoon with the composer John Luther Adams in New York City last May, shortly after his Pulitzer Prize-winning orchestral work Become Ocean received its New York premiere at Carnegie Hall. (My article on this Seattle Symphony commission appears in the current issue of Listen magazine.)

And now the SSO’s recording with music director Ludovic Morlot has been released on Cantaloupe.

The spatial conception that informs JLA’s music really needs to be experienced in live performance, but you can get a decent impression of his aesthetic from the recording. This week NPR is making it available to listen to online for free.

Filed under: American music, John Luther Adams, Seattle Symphony

In excelsis


Filed under: photography

The Awesome Patricia Racette

Congratulations to Patricia Racette on receiving the San Francisco Opera Medal.

From Roger Pines’s recent interview with the soprano:

The city of San Francisco offers endless joys to Racette. She and her wife, mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, have a ritual of taking their 16-year-old toy poodle, Sappho, to Ocean Beach. And, of course, the years have brought Racette many friends here: “Some of them I’ve known for the entire 25 years, and others have come into my life over the past few years. The only downfall is that I’m always here to work and find myself challenged with not enough time amidst rehearsals and performances to see everyone as much as I’d like!”

And then there is the San Francisco audience, for whom Racette feels immense affection: “There is both loyalty and passion, and I’m quick to remind that we do feel the energy of the audience when we’re on the stage. It really is palpable– you can just tell when the crowd is ‘with you.’ I’m lucky enough to sing around the world, but when I come back to San Francisco, I know that I’m home.”

And here she discusses her current role as the lead in Susannah at SF Opera:

Filed under: San Francisco Opera, singers

Seattle Symphony’s Dvořák-Fest Begins

Daniil Trifonov: (c) Dario Acosta

Daniil Trifonov: (c) Dario Acosta

My review of the Seattle Season’s opening concert of the season — including pianist Daniil Trifonov’s spectacular SSO debut — is now live on Bachtrack:

Music by Antonín Dvořák was included on Ludovoc Morlot’s first-ever programme leading the Seattle Symphony, which took place in October 2009. At the time – two years before coming on board as music director – Morlot was a visiting conductor, and he offered the barest sampling of his thoughts on Dvořák (three of the Legends).

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Filed under: conductors, piano, review, Seattle Symphony

Absolute Literary Materialism


In his recent New Yorker profile of the Scottish writer James Kelman, James Wood contends that the no-frills, “absolute materialism” of Kelman’s prose — which he likens to Karl Ove Knausgård’s obsessive detail over daily rituals — “is rarely boring”

… partly because, like Knausgård, he simply proceeds AS IF the subject matter were interesting; and partly because, in writing as in most areas, limitation increases focus, and tends to irradiate necessity as if it were a luxury. This is the principle of prison writing, both in the literal sense (“One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”) and in the figurative sense (Kafka’s allegories of imprisonment.

Filed under: aesthetics, literary criticism

Pollock and Cage

Animator Léo Verrier’s new Jackson Pollock-themed short (above) leads Colin Marshall to compare this film fantasy of the birth of Pollock’s famous technique with the real thing: “Chance may have led him to discover this practice, but it hardly means he gave up control.”

Marshall quotes another filmmaker, the maverick Stan Brakhage, on Pollock, who recalls a trip to visit the painter:

But they [some New York painters] were like commenting and the used they words ‘chance operations’ which was no bother to me because I was hearing it regularly from John Cage. And the power and the wonder of it and so forth . . . but this really angered Pollock very deeply and he said ‘Don’t give me any of your “chance operations”.’ He said, ‘You see that doorknob’ and there was a doorknob that was about fifty feet from where he was sitting that was in fact the door that everyone was going to have to exit be. and drunk as he was, he just with one swirl of his brush picked up a glob of paint, hurled it and hit that doorknob smack-on with very little paint over the edges. And then he said, ‘And that’s the way out.’

Meanwhile, in If Jackson Pollock Wrote Music, Kyle Gann explores the connections between Pollock and composers John Cage and Morton Feldman:

In the middle of the 20th century, the arts exploded into a new and unsettling realm of abstraction. Paintings were no longer paintings of something; they were simply paint. Music, too, was no longer about melody; it had abandoned the grounding in tonality that had been its mainstay for centuries. For some composers, notably John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Earle Brown, music was now about sound the way paintings were about paint.

Filed under: aesthetics, art, art history, film, modernist composers

George Walker as Pianist

The remarkable American composer George Walker started out his career with the intention of becoming a concert pianist, but the racism of the era hampered those plans.

And more’s the pity, given the evidence captured on Albany Records’ ongoing series of releases of Walker as composer and performer.

Here are some more YouTube uploads where you can sample Walker’s artistry at the keyboard:

Chopin: Polonaise in A-Flat Major, Op. 53:

Robert Schumann: Fantasia in C, Op. 17- First Movement:

Filed under: composers, piano

Above the Abyss


Filed under: photography

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