MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Leonard Bernstein, with Strings Attached

My latest for Strings magazine is coming out in the August 2018 issue: a look at Leonard Bernstein from a somewhat different angle (pp. 16-22).

Composer. Conductor. Educator. Humanitarian. Even the official leonardbernstein.com website attempts to cope with its namesake’s oversize legacy by parceling it into categories. The music world has yet again been attempting to reassess it all throughout this centennial year—when the absence of “the next Leonard Bernstein” seems to be felt with an especially intense pang….

(I’ll add a pdf as soon as it’s available.)

 

Filed under: Bernstein, Strings

Wolfgang von Mozart?

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The intrepid Mozart scholar Michael Lorenz published an article in 2009 examining documentation from the composer’s later years in which his name is given as “von Mozart.”

Lorenz believes this evidence suggests “that he either was addressed with a predicate of nobility or even claimed his status as nobleman himself.”
He concludes: “Of course there is no absolute proof that Mozart’s nobility was universally acknowledged by his Viennese contemporaries. But the above documents make it very likely that at some time Mozart actually passed himself off as a nobleman.”

Another issue connected with these documents involves Mozart’s worsening financial condition in the late 1780s and how this has been interpreted. According to Lorenz:

It seems that Mozart’s main reason for moving to the outskirts of Vienna was not to reduce his costs, but to take advantage of the better living conditions in more spacious environs … The circumstances of his choice of lodgings show him as a man of the world, who in spite of being faced with a major decline in income is unable to reduce the living standards to which he has become accustomed.

Filed under: Mozart, musicology

Seattle Chamber Music Society’s 2018 Commission

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Composer James Newton Howard (Eric Charbonneau / Invision / AP)

For The Seattle Times: my look at the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s commission for the 2018 Summer Festival: a new piece by veteran film composer James Newton Howard:

It would be hard to underestimate how pervasively film composers shape the general public’s image of what classical music “sounds like.” …

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Filed under: commissions, Seattle Chamber Music Society

RIP Oliver Knussen (1952-2018)

Such sad news today of the death of Oliver Knussen, only 66 years old. This prodigious, spectacular, generous, multifaceted genius left a mark that will endure.

“Besides definitive interpretations of his own music, he must surely have given more first performances than any other conductor, alongside an outstanding body of recordings. He was the central focus of so many activities, and an irreplaceable mentor to his fellow composers, who constantly sought and relied on his advice and encouragement.” Colin Matthews in The Guardian

BBC Radio 4 tribute here [h/t @AodhBC on Twitter]

“’He has had a fertilizing and energizing effect on the whole of British music for the last 40 years,’ the composer George Benjamin, a longtime friend and colleague, said in a telephone interview. ‘We have a lively and varied contemporary music world here in the U.K., and a lot of it is owed to him, because of the immensely generous encouragement he gave to generations and generations of composers.'” (from the New York Times obituary)

Faber Music’s summary of Knussen’s career is here.

Filed under: music news, Oliver Knussen

Shostakovich: Cello Sonata No. 1

Haunted by this work now, which was positioned in the middle of last night’s Summer Festival of the Seattle Chamber Music Society — in an enthralling performance by Seattle Symphony principal cellist Efe Baltacıgil and pianist Adam Neiman.

The program also included Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata (Augustin Hadelich and Alessio Bax) and a winning account of Schumann’s E-flat major Piano Quintet (Andrew Wan, Benjamin Beilman, Jonathan Vinocour, Astrid Schween, George Li).

Filed under: chamber music, Seattle Chamber Music Society, Shostakovich

Götterdämmerung Caps Triumph of SFO Ring

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Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Here’s the final installment of my coverage for Musical America of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary Ring cycle.

SAN FRANCISCO—If Siegfried highlights Zambello’s ability to tease out vital, three-dimensional characters from a deceptively simple surface, Götterdämmerung shows her clarifying the most complex component of the entire cycle–an installment which introduces an entire generation of characters new to the Ring–with a gripping theatrical momentum. The night/day dichotomy of the Prologue aptly summed up the diametrical viewpoints of this staging…

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Ring review: Part 1

Ring review: Part 2

Ring review: Part 3

Filed under: directors, Musical America, review, Ring cycle, Runnicles, Wagner

Happy 4th of July

Happy Independence Day, courtesy of two children of immigrants.

Filed under: Bernstein, George Gershwin, New York Philharmonic

SFO’s Newly Forged Ring: Siegfried as More Than a Prequel

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Daniel Brenna as Siegfried and David Cangelosi as Mime in Wagner’s “Siegfried.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Continuation of my coverage of San Francisco Opera’s Ring for Musical America:

SAN FRANCISCO—From an emotional force akin to Greek tragedy to the straightforward exploits of a superhero: for a director, one of the main challenges posed by the Ring’s third evening is how to bridge that gulf, all the while clarifying the stakes in Siegfried so that the audience will buy into the return to full-on tragic mode in the cycle’s mammoth finale….

continue [behind Musical America‘s paywall — but will be open access Friday afternoon]
Part 1 here

Filed under: Musical America, review, Ring cycle, San Francisco Opera, Wagner

Gianandrea Noseda to Zurich Opera

What a coup for Zurich Opera: Gianandrea Noseda has accepted Andreas Homoki’s invitation to become chief conductor at Zurich Opera, following the travail at Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, which led Noseda to resign his post there.

According to Michael Cooper for the New York Times: “Mr. Noseda thought it over, and decided that the chance to conduct Wagner’s epic Ring cycle for the first time, in a new production, was impossible to refuse.”

And so lured by the Ring, Noseda will start his post in 2021 as general music director in Zurich, succeeding Fabio Luisi (himself off to take the reins at the Dallas Symphony). The Ring will follow in the spring of 2022.

Cooper’s report is here.

Christian Wildhagen has published a very interesting interview for the NZZ (in German). The maestro explains at greater length what, in addition to the prospect of doing a Ring, is so attractive about the post (my translation):

The “Ring” remains the central challenge for every opera conductor and every major house — one of the greatest challenges ever. But overall I am also tempted by the opportunity to work with the musicians of the Philharmonia intensively on the so-called German repertoire. I already did a “Tristan” at my previous house, the Teatro Regio Torino, as well as “Salome” by Richard Strauss and, three years ago, a “Lohengrin” in St. Petersburg. The opportunity to expand on these explorations in Zurich, in the center of German-speaking Switzerland, makes the invitation particularly appealing to me. All the more so since the timing for this artistic development seems to coincide with my personal journey.

Filed under: conductors, music news, Zurich Opera

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