MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Snowblinded by Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin: Happy Holiday, 1999; acrylic and graphite on canvas

Agnes Martin: Happy Holiday, 1999; acrylic and graphite on canvas

What a joy to spend an afternoon at Tate Modern’s major retrospective of Agnes Martin. Of particular fascination are the parallels with yet stark deviations from Minimalism, the tension between form and medium and expressive yearning.

Martin’s approach to color reinforces her formal restraint, yet paradoxically opens up a vast new dimension of sensual intensity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the cycle of twelve paintings, The Islands.

These variants on Martin’s signature grids, in white, create an unsurpassably beautiful experience. Their contemplative serenity left me almost snow blind, dizzy, visually drunk. Readjusting to the “normal” white of the walls, the everyday noises of shoes echoing, becomes a challenge. How to decompress?

Martin on her art:

My paintings have neither objects nor space nor time nor anything – no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form.

Without awareness of beauty, innocence and happiness,one cannot make works of art.

Filed under: aesthetics, art, painting

A Sense of “Humor” at the Lucerne Festival

So another Lucerne Festival has begun: this summer featuring programming tied together by the theme of “humor” in all its varieties: not just “buffa” humor, that is, but the weird and unpredictable twists of the so-called humors that were once believed to influence human behavior.

And neatly timed with the opening concert comes the announcement that Riccardo Chailly will take on the position of the late Claudio Abbado as music director of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.
Says Chailly:

To be responsible for this great artistic project
initiated by Claudio Abbado is not only a privilege but also something that touches me emotionally. Ever since I was 18, when he appointed me to be his assistant at La Scala, Abbado was my model and then my point of reference and lifelong friend, with deep affection up to the very end.

I have collaborated with Michael Haefliger for many years in a spirit of full artistic understanding. I believe that working with him offers a real opportunity to maintain and develop the musical profile of the Orchestra and of the Festival, both in Switzerland and worldwide, as they deserve.”

Congratulations to Maestro Chailly — and to the Lucerne Festival for this terrific win!

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, music news, programming

Time To Hide


Filed under: photography

The Isle of the Dead

I was recently studying Rachmaninoff’s famous tone poem for a project. This interpretation by Evgeny Svetlanov and the BBC Symphony I rather enjoy — especially how they bring off the brooding opening.

Here’s one of the Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin’s several color paintings of the famous image that inspired Rachmaninoff. (The composer said he preferred the black and white reproduction that gave him his first impression of the painting, claiming he may not have composed the tone poem had he seen the original first.)


Regarding extramusical inspirations, Rachmaninoff once remarked:

When composing, I find it is of great help to have in mind a book just recently read, or a beautiful picture, or a poem. Sometimes a definite story is kept in mind, which I try to convert into tones without disclosing the source of my inspiration.

As for The Isle of the Dead, which he composed while in Dresden in 1909 Rachmaninoff specifically stated: “When it came how it began — how can I say? It all came up within me, was entertained, written down.”

Filed under: aesthetics, painting, Rachmaninoff

“What Do You Think You’re Looking At?!”


Filed under: photography

Seattle Opera’s Nabucco Falls Flat

The cast and orchestra of Seattle Opera's Nabucco. © Philip Newton

The cast and orchestra of Seattle Opera’s Nabucco. © Philip Newton

My Bachtrack review is now live.
(I think I managed to catch all the autocorrects that
were turning “Nabucco” into “Nabisco.”)

On paper, Seattle Opera’s new production of Nabucco sounded enticing. General Director Aidan Lang generated buzz about the ‘innovative staging concept’ we should anticipate for the company’s first-ever presentation of Verdi’s third opera. Seattle Opera had meanwhile undertaken a rebranding effort that included a design facelift of its website to emphasise large, bold visuals — with billboard-style tags announcing Nabucco: ‘BETRAYED’ ‘TWISTED’ “EPIC’.

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Filed under: directors, review, Seattle Opera, Verdi

O Tempora, O Mores

Is this what our civilization has come to?

Beethoven's Fifth by a musical illiterate

Beethoven’s Fifth by a musical illiterate

(h/t Amy Fogerson)

Filed under: humor

Zozobra, with Gloombox


I happened upon this miniature version ofthe legendary Zozobra in the lobby of the Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe.

According to the official “All about Zozobra” site, Zozobra, “also known as Old Man Gloom (OMG),” was created by local artist William Howard Shuster, Jr., in 1924 and became part of the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe starting in 1926.

Made of muslin and stuffed with shredded paper, Zozobra is an eerie, groaning, flailing character who appears to be part ghost and part monster.
Amid fireworks and the ceremonial dances of ghosts and fire a growling Zozobra is set ablaze and it is said as the fire consumes the beast so go the feelings of gloom and doom from the past year.

[Howard] was inspired by the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico, where an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, is led around the village on a donkey, and ultimately set afire. Shuster and his friend, E. Dana Johnson, a local newspaper editor, came up with the name Zozobra, which was defined as: “anguish, anxiety, gloom,” or Spanish for “the gloomy one.”

Filed under: photography, travel

The Standard Rep at Santa Fe Opera: Summer 2015

Alex Penda as Salome; photo © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2015

Alex Penda as Salome; photo © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2015

Along with my Cold Mountain coverage, here’s the round-up review of three opera productions I wrote for Musical America, in the order in which they impressed me: Salome, Rigoletto, and The Daughter of the Regiment). (Sorry for the paywall, which prevents me from presenting the whole text here.)

SANTA FE — With the world premiere of Cold Mountain and the announcement of a newly commissioned opera about Steve Jobs by Mason Bates, Santa Fe Opera has been in the media spotlight over the past week. The company is also emphasizing its versatility in this summer’s three productions of familiar fare.

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Filed under: directors, Donizetti, review, Richard Strauss, Santa Fe Opera, Verdi

Cold Mountain Almost Reaches the Top

Isabel Leonard (Ada) and Nathan Gunn (Inman); photo by Ken Howard/courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

Isabel Leonard (Ada) and Nathan Gunn (Inman); photo by
Ken Howard/courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

The world premiere of the opera Cold Mountain by composer Jennifer Higdon and librettist Gene Scheer took place this past Saturday at Santa Fe Opera. My review has now been posted on Musical America. I can only give a brief snippet of the review here, which is behind Musical America‘s paywall:

SANTA FE — The event that’s been generating the biggest buzz this summer at Santa Fe Opera is Cold Mountain, which received its world premiere over the weekend. For Jennifer Higdon’s debut opera, set to veteran librettist Gene Scheer’s adaptation of the much-acclaimed Charles Frazier novel, the company has assembled a thrilling cast of principals and a first-rate production team.

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Filed under: Jennifer Higdon, librettists, new opera, review, Santa Fe Opera

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