MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle Symphony Performs Stravinsky’s Perséphone

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Stravinsky’s Perséphone at Seattle Symphony in Michael Curry staging; photo by Brandon Patoc

My review of a very memorable evening with Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, and the visual artistry of Michael Curry:

Since its tepid première at the Paris Opera in 1934, Perséphone has remained among the most neglected of Stravinsky’s major scores, unable to find a comfortable home on the opera, ballet or concert stage.

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Filed under: Ludovic Morlot, review, Seattle Symphony, Stravinsky

Iced Bodies at Dartmouth

Iced-Cello

Seth Parker Woods

Here’s a terrific story by Britta Greene for NPR on the Iced Cello project by cellist Seth Parker Woods and composer Spencer Topel, which they recently performed at Dartmouth College.

My profile of this amazing cellist for Strings magazine is here.

Some more Seth Parker Woods (with R. Andrew Lee, playing music of Michael Vincent Waller):

Filed under: American music, Michael Vincent Waller, Seth Parker Woods

Opera Omaha’s Inaugural ONE Festival Proves Up to Its Ambitions

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Proving Up by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek, directed by James Darrah, with John Moore, Talise Trevigne, Michael Slattery, Cree Carrico, Abigail Nims, Andrew Harris, and Sam Shapiro; photo (c) Emily Hardman

My coverage of the inaugural ONE Festival at Opera Omaha is now live on Musical America. (I’m afraid there’s a paywall.)

I devoted Part 1 to the world premiere of Proving Up, the brilliant new opera by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek in James Darrah’s staging:

Part 1

Part 2

Filed under: American opera, directors, Musical America, new opera, Opea Omaha, review

San Francisco Conservatory of Music Gets $46 Million Gift

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Students in the Technology and Applied Composition program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Credit Sewon Barrera

My latest New York Times story is now online.

Thanks to MaryClare Brzytwa, David Stull, Emily Pitts, DuMarkus Davis.

Here are some sound samples from the TAC program:

Filed under: music news, New York Times, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, women composers

Handel in Omaha

One of the many remarkable moments from this past weekend at Opera Omaha’s ONE Festival.

Filed under: Handel, Opea Omaha

Swept Away by Morlot’s La mer

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This week’s Seattle Symphony program culminates in one of music director Ludovic Morlot’s specialities: La mer, the finale to a program initially designed around orchestral color.

It opens with Escales (“Ports of Call”) by Debussy’s younger compatriot Jacques Ibert. This tripart travelogue from the early 1920s unabashedly exploits clichéd Orientalist and Spanish tropes, but the composer’s treatment of the orchestra is fresh, and Morlot found enough appealing nuances here to make it an enjoyable outing — and to pique interest in hearing more of this now-neglected composer’s considerable output.

The program had originally been slated to include a real rarity — Scriabin’s Piano Concerto, an early work that isn’t exactly in most pianist’s ready-to-go rep. Daniil Trifonov withdrew because of illness at the last minute, so it wouldn’t have been reasonable to expect Inon Barnatan to play the Scriabin when he agreed to save the day.

Scriabin’s synesthesia was meant to be a linking thread here — and perhaps something about Debussy’s Russian influences? — but the substitute turned out to be quite satisfying anyway: Mozart’s K. 488 Piano Concerto, which dates from just before the Figaro premiere.

I was impressed by Barnatan’s SSO debut two years ago (in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto). Once again, there was much to admire in his ultra-refined approach to the Mozart, which I heard on Thursday night — all the more striking, given that the concerto’s seemingly straightforward textures were surrounded by the complex hues and ravaging color fields of the rest of the program.

But I was puzzled by the shift from Classical poise to Romantic exaggeration of gesture in the minor-key slow movement, which contains some of Mozart’s most heart-rending music. Barnatan is such a naturally expressive interpreter that I think he would have been more effective without adding italics. Still, there were moments of that elevated beauty squeezed from the most commonplace phrase that set Mozart apart. The finale had all the joie de vivre of the Figaro that was waiting in the wings.

Morlot combined Respighi’s Pines of Rome with Debussy (Nocturnes) early in his tenure, and this time he took up the Italian’s Fountains. It’s hard to avoid the charge of musical padding here in Respighi’s opulent, neo-Richard Straussian scoring, but Morlot shaped the vignettes into miniature dramas that held interest. The SSO’s playing was at a high level, with especially fine ensemble from the strings.

It all seemed to set the stage perfectly for Debussy’s quasi-symphony La mer — including the times-of-day conceit of Respighi’s homage to Rome, moving from the sun’s fading at the Villa Medici to Debussy’s oceanic dawn.

But it soon became clear that Morlot wasn’t interested in “painting” with tone colors or the kind of pictorialism of Ibert — in other words, that he wasn’t treating La mer as another piece of program music that proves how clever Debussy was at conjuring mental images of aspects of the sea through his orchestration. In fact, and especially in contrast to the Ibert, it became obvious how much Debussy manages to do without resorting to standard musical tropes to suggest water.

Instead, the “colors” here seemed closer to the way we find them used in a Mahler symphony: expressions of an internal cosmos, building into a wordless drama of struggle and affirmation.

In his latest take on the piece, Morlot often went in surprising directions. Most remarkable of all was the intensity of the drama in the third panel, which exuded an almost terrifying ferocity I’d not heard in live performances of La mer.

The synergy with the SSO was exciting. Mary Lynch’s rendition of the ambiguous oboe phrase crowned an evening of stellar playing by the woodwinds. Morlot has internalized Debussy’s score to such a degree that he occasionally created the illusion of writing it on the spot. A moving tribute to Debussy’s continuing relevance.
–Review (c)2018 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: Debussy, Ludovic Morlot, review, Seattle Symphony

A Trip Through New York City in 1911

Originally filmed by SF Studios, a Swedish company. Sound of course added on.

Filed under: film, miscellaneous

The Esoterics: Concert Review

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Photo by Bruce Weber

Review of The Esoterics for the Seattle Times:

The Esoterics Sing Radically Secular Rewrites of Texts from the Christian Mass

The Esoterics have a reputation for giving voice to new ideas. But this past weekend’s program explored a concept that was unusual even for them.

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Filed under: choral music, review, Seattle Times

Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Theater of Dichotomies

Very glad I decided to catch The Happiest Song Plays Last before the run ended — thank you, Theatre22, for staging this.

I sadly missed the company’s production of Water by the Spoonful a few years ago and have never been able to catch the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning Quiara Alegría Hudes in New York. But now I get what the fuss is about.

The Happiest Song Plays Last is a beautifully constructed play, with rich, in-depth characterizations that the Theatre22 cast dug into and projected compassionately. Quiara Alegría Hudes’s dialogue cuts to the bone. It emanates a kind of honesty I found genuinely moving and dramatically effective.

She also carries off an intriguing structural challenge in this final play of her Elliot trilogy (named for the young Puerto Rican soldier Elliot Ruiz, who comes from North Philadelphia and serves in Iraq — a protagonist inspired by the playwright’s real-life cousin).

Cinematic in scope but resolutely avoiding the formulaic clichés of commercial film and theater, Happiest Song unfolds in two very different, very distant worlds. One is in the Middle East, on a film set, with veteran Ruiz now playing the lead role in an indie docudrama about the Iraq War.

It’s being filmed in Jordan, and during off hours, Elliot develops intense connections both to his co-star, Shar, an Arab-American actress, and Ali, an exiled Iraqi hired as a consultant-gofer for the film. The Egyptian chapter of the Arab Spring starts to play out at the same time, which they learn about via the media.

The other world is the North Philly neighborhood where Elliot grew up with his cousin Yaz, cared for an adoptive mother who has since died. Yaz has decided to take her place, moving into her home to continue her activist and care-taking work supporting this impoverished community. She develops an unexpected attachment to neighbor Agustín, an older, married man passionate about his music.

Hudes cleverly splices these distinct settings, revealing the weight of guilt on Elliot — scarred by his experiences in Iraq — and also on Yaz as she confronts the pressure of living up to her saintly model. World crisis and local community protests intersect in Hudes’ warm, humane web to form this compelling story.

“Being an artist is about honoring the dichotomies that are always around us,” says Hudes. “We’re alive, and we’re going to die — that’s the basic one — but every little dichotomy that reveals itself to me is a treasure for writing and for life. You always need a yin and yang… As an artist, that daring to go beyond, that taking the next step beyond the moment you’re in is the thrill of the chase and the love of the craft.”

Filed under: playwrights

In Search of Mahlerian Music Drama at LA Phil

I covered a very unusual approach to Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde for Musical America. This remarkably original staging by Yuval Sharon and the Chile-based Teatrocinema Company was performed this past weekend by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel, with soloists Russell Thomas and Tamara Mumford.
[review behind paywall]

Filed under: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mahler, Musical America, review, Yuval Sharon

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