MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Sprucing Up

IMG_1625

Filed under: photography

“Most Strange Effects”: Sacred Choral Music from the Renaissance

josquin-des-prez

From a recent essay I wrote for the Los Angeles Master Chorale:

There’s a touch of irony in the concept of the Renaissance as a specific historical period. An inspired reawakening of respect for an age long past — classical antiquity — is considered one key aspect of the Renaissance attitude, yet that attitude itself was singled out via a backward glance. Not until the nineteenth century did historians construct what we’ve come to think of as The Renaissance, as a period clearly marked off from the “Middle Ages.”

And it’s taken even longer for the vast store of musical treasures created during the Renaissance to be recovered from the oblivion of intervening centuries — a recovery we can credit to the revolution of “early music” awareness.

So what period are we talking about? For convenience, but recognizing the arbitrariness of the dates, let’s say the standard 1400-1600, give or take. Just as with quite a few of the composers from this era, there’s no clear-cut date that unambiguously marks the “birth” of the Renaissance: proto-Renaissance traits pop up at various points throughout the preceding centuries.

Still, overall, a major shift in thinking about the art of music, its purpose, and its creators did start manifesting itself around the fifteenth century, paving the way for composers like Josquin des Prez and the others we hear on this evening’s program.

continue reading

Filed under: choral music, essay, Renaissance music

Thanksgiving Music

Filed under: holiday

Don’t Even Think of It!

IMG_1588

Filed under: photography

Guest Review: World Premiere Staging of The Gospel According to the Other Mary

Mary

I’m deeply grateful to Tom Luce to be able to publish his insightful review of the world premiere of the opera staging of John Adams’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary. Directed by Peter Sellars, the production just opened this past weekend at English National Opera.

Review by Tom Luce:
The Gospel According to the Other Mary
World Premiere Staging of John Adams’s and Peter Sellars’s Masterpiece

On Friday 21 November, English National Opera unveiled its new production of the Adams/Sellars “alternative” version of the crucifixion of Christ. The two-act work, described by its creators as a “Passion Oratorio”, was premiered in a concert performance at Disney Concert Hall by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in May 2012 under Gustavo Dudamel’s baton. The following year came the first semi-staged concert performance, also featuring the LA Philharmonic under Dudamel. That version later toured to New York and Europe (including a stop at London’s Barbican). Dudamel’s interpretation was released on a recording by Deutsche Grammophon earlier this year, so the music has been accessible to the public at large since then.

Directed by Sellars himself, ENO’s production was the work’s first full staging. Along with its two creators, it deservedly received a prolonged ovation from a rapt and obviously much moved audience.

The performance was uniformly excellent, with cast and chorus admirably meeting the challenging mixture of singing, movement, and acting Sellars demands of and inspires from his performers. All the principal singers — Patricia Bardon as Mary Magdalene, Meredith Arwady as Martha, and Russell Thomas the Lazarus — were committed and effective, as were dancers Banks, Stephanie Berge, Ingrid Mackinnon, and Parinay Mehra, who variously shadowed them and contributed other parts to the narrative.

The musical side at ENO was in the hands of Joana Carneiro. Of Portuguese origin, she is better known in the U.S. than in Britain, having for some years been music director of the Berkeley Symphony. Her technical mastery and impassioned commitment to this highly complex score were remarkable. The ENO orchestra played magnificently.

Those familiar with Sellars’ “ritualisations” of the two Bach Passions with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra would find nothing to surprise them in his staging. One hallmark is his use of dance, mime, and body movement to externalise and heighten emotion. “Put your body where your belief is”, he says in the ENO’s introductory video. Another is the subtle intermingling of narrative and representation. The main thrust is narrative, but to heighten impact at critical points in the drama, the narrators act out the events — just as the Evangelist in the Berlin Bach Passions both expounds the story and at times impersonates characters — e.g., Peter in denial, or Christ at his death. This subtle shifting of roles keeps crude dramatisation at bay but facilitates a wide variety of dramatic tone and effects. I have not seen anything comparable in other directors’ work; it is one of Sellars’s most skilful and original attributes.

The stage design by George Tsypin, subtly lit by James Ingalls, is spare but eloquent: sand and barbed wire represent a Middle East riven by conflict and oppression, simultaneously biblical and contemporary.

The work juxtaposes and fuses ancient and modern in presenting Mary and Martha as running a hostel for homeless, impoverished, and marginalised people, with Jesus as a mixture of family friend, honoured guest, and spiritual patron. He is also a miracle worker in the raising of their dead brother Lazarus, sacrificial victim of the elites whose power he challenges, and a source of hope for the future of the world.

The literary sources are the Bible — especially St John’s Gospel — supplemented and re-interpreted through modern American cultural figures: poet and author Louise Erdrich, who is partially of native American descent; Dorothy Day of the radical Catholic Worker movement; Rosario Castellanos, the Mexican writer, activist, and diplomat; and the black poet June Jordan (who wrote the libretto for an earlier Adams/Sellars collaboration, I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky).

In the ENO video Sellars also says: “The moment you feminize Christianity and you go into feminine spirituality, you go into a very different space and it operates very differently”. It is of the essence in Sellars’s dramatic work that he sees the cultural myths we have inherited through women’s eyes. This is as much an emotional and dramatic as a political standpoint.

The main originality of his St Matthew Passion ritualisation lies in its inspiration and liberation in the listener and viewer of wider and wilder feelings going well beyond the conventional liturgical responses or the “authentic” musical response to a deeper human involvement in the passion of Christ and its human and political significance. In doing so he responds to the injunction in the very first line of the work: “Come, ye daughters, help me lament”. (The discreet presence in the audience of Mark Padmore, the Evangelist in the Berlin Passions, at Friday’s Gospel premiere served to underline the connection between the Bach and Adams ventures.)

John Adams’s music reaches new levels of emotional profundity, dramatic responsiveness, and absence of mannerism, going even beyond his achievement in The Death of Klinghoffer. There is an extraordinary richness and flexibility of harmony and melody and a fascinating orchestral sound, to which a cimbalom gives an exotic edge without ever sounding kitschy. Amongst many fine moments, the most deeply moving for me is the aria with which the first act ends, sung by Lazarus after the Passover evening: “Tell me, how is this night different? … This is the night we eat the bread of affliction so that evil may turn into good”. Within an orchestral palette evoking a kind of Nachtmusik, Adams here creates a deep and movingly optimistic reflection on the events of the opera. Over many years I have heard nothing finer from a contemporary composer.

With this production English National Opera cements its standing as the world’s most committed John Adams house, having previously mounted Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic and having originated the Klinghoffer production admired recently at the Met.

The work itself will surely take a high place in the canon of works from the last century or so in which great composers address themes of human injustice and inequality. It will be alongside Tippett’s A Child Of Our Time (1944) and his The Knot Garden (1970), an opera featuring a female revolutionary fighter and a mixed-race/same-gender couple, which sadly seems to have slipped out of the repertoire in recent years); Hans Werner Henze’s dramatic cantata The Raft of Medusa; and above all Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. Its full unveiling at last week’s premiere was an event of real significance.

Tom Luce lives in London and Seattle. He has followed musical events for over 50 years. He wrote music reviews for Seattle’s Crosscut.com.

Filed under: American opera, Bach, culture news, directors, John Adams, new music, opera

John Adams at ENO: The Other Mary

Mary

The full opera staging of John Adams’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary premieres tonight at English National Opera in London, in a production directed by the brilliant Peter Sellars (recently named Musical America’s Artist of the Year).

Here’s a clip with Peter Sellars and John Adams discussing the work:

http://www.eno.org/gospel

Filed under: American music, American opera, John Adams, opera

Tere O’Connor Comes to Seattle

Tonight brings the first of Tere O’Connor’s performances at On the Boards.

MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Photo by Paula Court

Here’s my interview with the visionary choreographer Tere O’Connor ahead of his November residency at On the Boards and Velocity Dance Center in Seattle:

Tere O’Connor’s work isn’t just for lovers of dance; it’s for anyone interested in paradigm-shifting approaches to the performing arts. The radically innovative choreographer, dancer, teacher and thinker has been creating professional dance for more than three decades. This month, for the first time, the New York-based artist brings his company to Seattle to perform his work.

continue reading

View original post

Filed under: Uncategorized

Ebola Relief Concert

Ebola-relief

Every bit counts when it comes to trying to alleviate the suffering caused by crises like the current Ebola outbreak. Seattle’s Early Music Guild is presenting a special fundraiser on November 24 at Town Hall aimed at helping victims of the Ebola crisis.

Those who attend are invited to make a free-will donation in support of the great work done by Doctors without Borders and the Hope Project for Ebola relief in West Africa.

The crises caused by various plagues in human history have inspired artistic responses — art that does the work of mourning and remembering the victims and offering consolation to the bereaved. The special Early Music Guild concert will focus on the musical response of Medieval European composers such as Machaut, Landini, and Dufay to the devastating bubonic plague of the late Middle Ages. These will be juxtaposed with readings and songs from West Africa.

The concert will suggest parallels between Europeans’ reactions to plague in the 13th and 14th centuries and the ongoing tragedy in West Africa. This Ebola Relief program will feature performers including Eunice Yonly, Erin Calata, Erika Chang, and Marian Seibert, voices; August Denhard, lute; Shulamit Kleinerman, vielle; Bill McJohn, harp; and Peggy Monroe, percussion.

The evening will include also commentary from individuals dedicated to the fight to halt Ebola: Pastor George Everett of Transcontinental Ministries in Kent, Washington, will offer a personal reflection on the tragedy and how his Liberian community of faith is addressing it; Michael Nash, Executive Director of The Hope Project (based in Leavenworth, WA), will describe his organization’s work to build schools and protect communities from Ebola. And the audience will have an opportunity to participate in the music-making as Eunice Yonly lead a group performance of the anthem Africa Will be Saved.

The program will take place at 7:30 p.m. on November 24, 2014, at Town Hall Seattle. additional information, please call Early Music Guild at (206) 325-7066 or email emg@earlymusicguild.org.

Filed under: early music, social commitments

A Touch of Ghosts

I can’t wait for the new production of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles coming in January at Los Angeles Opera — part of the company’s upcoming Figaro Trilogy that will include the iconic Mozart and Rossini operas based on the plays of Beaumarchais.

The composer on style, from an extensive interview with Bruce Duffie:

I don’t write in any one style. That is important. I feel I do not approach a piece thinking of any style at all, but I evolve the style when I know what I have to write for that piece. If you listen to the “Pied Piper” and the Clarinet Concerto and the Oboe Concerto — which are three woodwind concertos — you’ll see that they’re totally and completely different from each other. I use style in a different way. I tend to think of style as a variable. I do have stylistic things that come back — certain intervals, certain kinds of progressions, certain sonorities, that I use because they’re part of me. That is an unconscious style. But as far as the idea of style as it exists in music today, in which one associates a sonority or a sound or a total piece with somebody, and he writes the next piece in that style and the next piece in that style, as Brahms did, I don’t feel I’m that kind of composer.

Here’s a little teaser of costume sketches.

Filed under: aesthetics, American opera, composers, Los Angeles Opera

Tere O’Connor Comes to Seattle

Photo by Paula Court

Here’s my interview with the visionary choreographer Tere O’Connor ahead of his November residency at On the Boards and Velocity Dance Center in Seattle:

Tere O’Connor’s work isn’t just for lovers of dance; it’s for anyone interested in paradigm-shifting approaches to the performing arts. The radically innovative choreographer, dancer, teacher and thinker has been creating professional dance for more than three decades. This month, for the first time, the New York-based artist brings his company to Seattle to perform his work.

continue reading

Filed under: dance, interview

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

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR