MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Guten Rutsch!

For my non-German-speaking friends, here’s a quickie intro to this NYE idiom: “In English, the phrase would be ‘Happy New Year,’ but Guten Rutsch literally translates to ‘Good jump’ or ‘Good slide.'”

I suppose a leap of faith always is involved in trying to brush aside the bad memories of a year just passed and to greet the new one as a “blank slate.”

On the other hand, the nostalgic tendency to think about old friends, old times, is a quintessential part of the New Year’s experience. Here’s Matthew Iglesias on the connection between Robert Burns’s beloved “Auld Lang Syne” and NYE:

The speaker is asking whether old friends should be forgotten, as a way of stating that obviously one should not forget one’s old friends. The version of the song we sing today is based on a poem published by Robert Burns, which he attributed to “an old man’s singing,” noting that it was a traditional Scottish song


One reason a random Scottish folk song has come to be synonymous with the new year is that New Year’s celebrations (known as Hogmanay) loom unusually large in Scottish folk culture … Presbyterianism put down deeper roots in Scotland, leading Hogmanay to displace Christmas as the number one midwinter celebration.


An 18th-century Scottish ballad … became a midcentury American television ritual, and from there became a worldwide phenomenon — even though almost nobody understands the song.



Filed under: miscellaneous, poetry

Top 10 Classical Releases of 2015


For Rhapsody subscribers: along with the Top 10 Classical Discoveries of 2015, here’s a repertory-focused list of picks for the Top 10 Classical Releases of 2015.

Epic orchestral panoramas, intimate meditations from the keyboard, exquisite singing: all of these and more are captured on this year-end overview of classical music releases across the centuries — including music being written today by the noted young American composer Andrew Norman.

Along with a thrilling account by star conductor Andris Nelsons of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, a 20th-century masterpiece, the list includes the Miró Quartet’s transcendent performance of chamber music by Schubert, reclusive pianist Grigory Sokolov communing with Chopin, the gorgeous vocalism of soprano Diana Damrau, and a seldom-heard opera by a Baroque polymath.

Christoph Eschenbach conducts Olivier Messiaen’s massive orchestral homage to the natural beauty of the American landscape. Another gem released in 2015 is the early-music ensemble Alamire’s collection of music favored by Anne Boleyn, the doomed Tudor queen. Another Russian piano great, Daniil Trifonov, brings his astonishing touch to Rachmaninoff. And French pianist Alexandre Tharaud explores the inexhaustible riches of J.S. Bach.

Filed under: music news

Top 10 Classical Discoveries of 2015

MEMETERIA by Thomas May


Reposting this with list and accompanying blog post.

My list for the Rhapsody service:

Top 10 Classical Discoveries of 2015

Best of 2015: Top 10 Classical Discoveries

Forget about dead white guys for the moment: Classical music isn’t just what was written centuries ago, and it’s definitely not all in the past. Let’s pay tribute to the creative imagination of composers at work today — all of them are very much alive and pushing the boundaries of musical expression.

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Filed under: music news

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

Filed under: Bach, Christmas

In Sweet Jubilation: Festive Holiday Music

A new essay for LA Master Chorale’s recent holiday program:

Senex puerum portabat/Puer autem senem regebat: “The old man held up the boy, but the boy upheld the old man.” Set to unforgettable music by the likes of William Byrd and Palestrina, this text comes from an antiphon marking the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple: an old man (the “righteous and devout” Simeon) greets the Holy Family in the Temple 40 days after the birth of Jesus and rejoices in proclaiming the significance of the newborn.


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Filed under: choral music

Mozart’s Serenata

Il re pastore is being featured at the Lucerne Easter Festival in 2016:

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, Mozart

Guest Review: Salzburg Christmas Concert


Paul Hindemith

London- and Seattle-based Tom Luce contributes the following review:

Faith, Despair, and Blasphemy: An Interestingly Different Salzburg Christmas Concert

Though Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace, ultimately drove the young composer away, the city has built a major tourist industry on its connection with him. Wherever you go, there are chocolate Mozarts and much touting of concerts of his music, even outside the prestigious Summer Festival or the “Mozart Week” each January.

In the run-up to Christmas in Salzburg, however, Mozart has to compete with two other icons. Most prominently, of course, there is the founder of the feast whose birth is celebrated with the full traditions of Austrian Catholicism — services, carols, and readings in the many churches and Christmas markets in every available city square. But, because he too hailed from the locality, there is also Joseph Mohr, author of the iconic carol “Stille Nacht, heilige  Nacht.’’  

It is this carol, usually sung with feeling, musical finesse, and at moderate volume levels, which dominates Christmas music in Salzburg’s public places. Those who in the festive season need constant and much louder reminders of jingling bells, reindeers with unusual aids to navigation, and White Christmas fantasies would be badly deprived in this city: For others it is a welcome refuge.

But on a visit a few days ago, it was music of a different stamp which provided my wife and me with our most profound cultural experience. We discovered — by chance because there seemed to be little publicity — that the student orchestra and vocal students from the Mozarteum, the distinguished local music conservatory, were  to give a concert (on 11 December) featuring music by Frank Martin, Alban Berg, and Paul Hindemith.

The programme was seasonal in being throughout concerned with the Christian religion, but hardly in a predictable way. It got off to a doctrinally orthodox start with Martin’s Six Monologues for Baritone and Orchestra, composed to texts from Jedermann — a reworking by Hugo von Hofmannsthal of the medieval English mystery play Everyman. This moving sequence takes a searching soul from fear of death through repentance to forgiveness through faith. It was followed by Alban Berg’s Three Fragments from Wozzeck (Marie’s admiration of the Drum Major in Act 1, her despairing invocation to the Virgin Mary in Act 3, and the opera’s concluding tragic passacaglia and bleak ending with her poor child abandoned). Finally, we had a semi-staged performance of Hindemith’s one-act opera Sancta Susanna, the story of sex in a nunnery which ends with the heroine snatching the loincloth from the figure of the crucified Christ and, to cries of “Satan” from her horrified conventual sisters, inviting eternal punishment. This iconoclastic work, in spirit as well musical style the opposite of Puccini’s saccharine Suor Angelica, created a great scandal when first given in 1922 and drew from the Vatican a complaint of blasphemy.

The programme was given to a very high standard. The orchestra’s delivery of these extremely demanding scores displayed great accomplishment. The vocal parts were sung with distinction: Fernando Araujo was the fine baritone in the Martin piece, Meredith Hoffmann Thomson made a deeply moving Marie, and Elizabeth de Roo and Julia Rath very successfully took the two main parts in the Hindemith opera. Hans Graf, formerly Music Director in Houston and now the Mozarteum’s chief conducting professor, presided inspirationally. The concert was to be repeated the next day, with student conductors and different student soloists.

On the showing of this ambitious concert, programmed with brilliant originality and superbly performed, the City of Salzburg, or at least its conservatory, maintains and continues to develop a musical culture of formidable professionalism, breadth of outlook, and openness of mind which may be truer to the legacy of its most-famous musical son than most casual tourists would realise when contemplating the conventionally bewigged and elegant figure represented on the chocolate Mozart wrappings.

–Tom Luce

Filed under: review

Return to Star Wars: John Williams Awakens the Musical Force


If you’re a Star Wars fan, chances are you’ve absorbed expert-level knowledge about the music that goes along with the films. You’re probably able to identify the iconic theme within a second or two of hearing it — and can even do the same, perhaps, for many other tracks from the scores composed by John Williams.

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Filed under: artist profile, film music

VAN Beethoven


The Los Angeles Philharmonic is playing with virtual reality:

Orchestra VR is the first virtual reality experience produced by the LA Phil, and one of the first of its kind in the world. Be transported to our iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall for a 360° 3-D performance featuring the opening of Beethoven’s timeless Fifth Symphony performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and conducted by Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel.

Originally produced for the VAN Beethoven tour, Orchestra VR is a free app you can download and experience for yourself.

Writes David Ng for the Los Angeles Times:

The goal was to capture sound as “it bounces around, and to create the audible sensory feeling of being there,” said Pietro Gagliano, a partner and executive creative director at Secret Location, the Toronto-based digital studio that worked with the orchestra on the project.

Users are able to detect subtle shifts in sound as they turn their heads to view different parts of the hall.

Incidentally, Mark Swed points out, “from Berlin to Beijing, Beethoven has had, for whatever reason (be it salability or spiritual sustenance), a very big year” — including in LA. In addition to the LA Phil’s VAN Beethoven project, “the new year began with Michael Tilson Thomas’ compelling Los Angeles Philharmonic performance of Missa Solemnis. The fall season began with Gustavo Dudamel’s Beethoven symphony cycle — shared by the L.A. Phil and Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela — that demonstrated a young conductor’s profoundly deepening understanding of the composer.”

Filed under: Beethoven, music news

Top 10 Classical Discoveries of 2015


Reposting this with list and accompanying blog post.

My list for the Rhapsody service:

Top 10 Classical Discoveries of 2015

Best of 2015: Top 10 Classical Discoveries

Forget about dead white guys for the moment: Classical music isn’t just what was written centuries ago, and it’s definitely not all in the past. Let’s pay tribute to the creative imagination of composers at work today — all of them are very much alive and pushing the boundaries of musical expression.

continue reading

Filed under: new music, playlist

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