MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Lagrime di San Pietro

Overwhelmed by this late Renaissance masterpiece from the end of Orlando di Lasso’s life: Grant Gershon will lead the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a performance to open their season next month — in a new staging by the brilliant Peter Sellars.

A teaser, from an interview I just conducted with Sellars:

Lagrime is one of the most magnificent pieces in the history of music: vivid and complex and yet an incredibly humble last work .

Orlando at this point in his life — just 30 years after the death of Michelangelo — does not need to prove anything to anyone. He is writing because this is something he has to get off his chest to purify his own soul as he leaves the world. It’s private, devotional act of writing, but these thoughts are now shared by a community — by people singing to and for each other…”

Filed under: Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Peter Sellars, Renaissance music, Uncategorized

Singing Archeology

That’s the term one of Philip Glass’s collaborators, Shalom Goldman, famously applied to the idea of transforming texts from ancient artifacts into the libretto for Akhnaten. Glass worked with Goldman and a handful of others to craft the libretto for this third in his trilogy of “portrait operas” including Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha.

I’m completely spellbound studying this work now ahead of the Los Angeles Opera production directed by Phelim McDermott and starring Anthony Roth Costanzo  (which premiered to ecstatic reviews last spring at ENO).

Glass stated that he was drawn to these iconic figures as “people who changed the world through the power of ideas rather than through the force of arms.” Recalls Glass:

I came across a work by [Immanuel Velikovsky] that was new to m: “Oedipus and Akhnaten.” It is a concise and scholarly work in which Velikovsky attempts to trace the origin of the Oedipus legend to the period of Akhnaten, the 18th-Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh who, in modern times, is looked upon as the first monotheist. Like everything else about Akhnaten, though, this one-word description hides more than it reveals.

Filed under: Los Angeles Opera, Philip Glass

Remembering

Filed under: Steve Reich

New Season, New Intendant at Luzerner Theater

luzerner-theater

Luzerner Theater transformed into a space inspired by Shakespeare’s Globe: iamge by David Röthlisberger

Lucerne Festival isn’t the only arts organization to have introduced major leadership changes this year: down the Bahnhofstrasse from the KKL and the train station, the 39-year-old Peter von Benedikt  has just begun his tenure as new Intendant of the Luzerner Theater (aka Stadttheater Luzern).

The original 19th-century institution opened in 1839 with (what else?) Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell. The Luzerner Theater now ranks as the oldest still-operating repertory theaterin Switzerland (offering a varied season of opera, ballet, plays, etc.).

After being gutted by a fire in 1924, the theater reopened in 1929; it has been renovated since — including in a recent rethink for von Benedikt’s first season. Among his plans are experimentation with new spaces, new reconfigurations of the theater.

The native Kölner von Benedikt arrives with impressive credentials and has a notable passion for opera. He was part of the directing team for the world premiere of Péter Eötvös’ operatic treatment of Angels in America, and in 2011 he won the Deutscher Theaterpreis Der Faust as best director in the music theater category for his staging of Luigi Nono’s Intolleranza 1960.

Nono was von Benedikt’s choice as well to open his first season with a new production of the Italian composer’s  Prometeo: A Tragedy of Listening from 1984 — talk about challenging your audience!

The choice is also unusual in terms of the relatively small space (400-plus seats) for a work that’s encountered (when it is encountered live) mostly in concert halls. For this production von Benedikt had the theater reorganized to mimic the multi-level Globe theater of Shakespeare’s day — and to encourage an intimate, “egalitarian” experience of Nono’s remarkable, one-of-a-kind music theater.

More from the company’s description:

Die Komposition handelt zwar von Prometheus, der aber nicht als Figur, sondern als Prinzip vertreten ist. Nono setzt dem Vorwärtsstreben, der Fortschrittsgläubigkeit desjenigen, der in der Mythologie den Menschen das Feuer bringt, das Langsame, Leise, das Unspektakuläre entgegen.

Nono und sein Librettist Cacciari benutzen Texte von u.a. Aischylos, Rilke oder Benjamin, die jedoch nur fragmentiert und in verschiedenen Sprachen präsentiert werden. Man soll sie nicht verstehen, sondern ihr Inhalt bildet den Hintergrund für etwas, was wir erahnen, erspüren mögen.

Sie umkreisen auf höchst abstrakte, dichterische Weise Fragen wie: Wie autonom ist der Mensch? Oder aus der Sicht der Antike formuliert: Wie ist das Verhältnis von den Götter und den Menschen. Was ist Bestimmung, was Schicksal, haben wir aus der Geschichte gelernt, gibt es im 20. Jahrhundert noch Utopien oder leben wir in einer Zeit, in der die Hoffnung auf Veränderung erloschen ist.

 

Filed under: theater

A Summer of Changes in Lucerne

This coming weekend brings the close of the Summer Festival in Lucerne. Along with the usual Stendhal Syndrome-inducing concentration of great artists and great art, the 2016 edition introduced two major changes — if not exactly paradigm shifts — to Lucerne Festival’s organization and overall character: the inauguration of Riccardo Chailly as new Music Director of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, succeeding the late Claudio Abbado, and, in the wake of Pierre Boulez’s death, the first Lucerne Festival Academy under new leadership, with Wolgang Rihm as Artistic Director and Matthias Pintscher as Principal Conductor.

Michael Cooper reports in The New York Times on how the Lucerne Festival is “reinventing itself”:

But behind the scenes, the Lucerne Festival, an increasingly important part of the classical music ecosystem, was being forced to reinvent itself. Within the past couple of years, the festival has lost not one, but both of its guiding artistic lights: Mr. Abbado died in 2014 at 80, and Mr. Boulez this year at 90. Their losses pose a challenge at a moment when Europe’s leading summer festivals hotly compete for artists, audiences and prestige.

Cooper also wrote about the 2016 Lucerne Festival theme of women in music, interviewing four of the eleven female conductors who appeared on the podium there this summer: Barbara Hannigan, Marin Alsop, Susanne Mälkki, and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.

And here’s a European perspective from one of the German-speaking world’s major music critics, Christian Wildhagen (who wrote his dissertation on Mahler 8, the work with which Chailly and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra opened the festival last month):

Niemand sei «in der Gewalt seelenvollster, rauschendster, visionärster Musik dem Himmel näher getragen worden» als Mahler, schwärmte Ernst Bloch in seinem Buch «Geist der Utopie». Eine Aufführung der 8.Sinfonie wäre indes nicht komplett, wenn auf diesem Weg nicht auch ein paar Unzulänglichkeiten Ereignis würden.

 

Filed under: conductors, Lucerne Festival, music news

Cells of Life

img_5691Charles Jencks’s incandescent mounds at Jupiter Artland.

Filed under: art, photography

Richard III, Rock Star

I was very fortunate finally to have a chance to catch up with Thomas Ostermeier’s acclaimed production of Richard III the Schaubühne — not in Berlin, but at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Much has been made of Ostermeier’s highly original direction as a saturated, intensified portrait — a Machiavellian mirror — of the title anti-hero. That of course has been facilitated by the exciting, controversial translation/adaptation/condensation of the German text prepared by company dramaturg Marius von Mayenburg.

One of the most brilliantly effective choices — apparently a spontaneous decision arrived at during the course of rehearsal, according to Ostermeier — was to streamline the litany of climactic battles into a sequence of Richard fighting with himself, up to his inglorious demise.

This portrait approach was also made possible only through the weird, cultish charisma and electrifying stage presence of Lars Eidinger as a maniac-depressively embittered Richard. Not an “evil” character, according to Ostermeier, so much as one who makes the workings of power and its aggrandizement theatrically  transparent, naked.

“The play is not about evil as such,” says Ostermeier, “but about participation in power, the exclusion of an outsider and the manipulation of others’ antipathies. In this respect it does have significant political implications.” 

Eidinger’s matchless account requires intense physical acting, stamina, singing, and clownish, stand-up improv with the audience — the humor was particularly well-pointed, not a cop out (with a delightful exchange accusing a prematurely exiting patron of being rude when he claimed he was heading “to the toilet”).

But that’s not to shortchange the contributions of the rest of a stupendous ensemble cast. Percussionist Nils Ostendorf  contributed an excellent, live-wire score, which interpolated some fascinating touches (like an intensely repeated loop that segued in and out of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”).

 

 

 

 

Filed under: directors, Schaubühne, Shakespeare

Der Freischütz

IMG_5684

Filed under: photography

The Legend of Sawney Bean

sawney-bean

The things one learns while traveling…. This made for some good tale-spinning while visiting Edinburgh:

The story of Sawney Bean is one of the most gruesome Scottish legends, the plot of which would not look out of place in any modern horror/slasher movie. Evidence suggests the tale dates to the early 18th century.

more on the gruesome legend of the Bean clan

Bonus scare:

Filed under: miscellaneous, travel

Adventures with the Seattle Symphony

The September 2016 issue of Gramophone is out and contains my feature on innovations at the Seattle Symphony in the era of Ludovic Morlot.

Filed under: Gramophone, Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony

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

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR