MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Clocks Without Hands at Maerzmusik


Looking forward to this concert tonight: orchestral works by Ashley Fure, Justė Janulytė, and Olga Neuwirth. Program book here.
https://www.ricordi.com/de-DE/News/2015/06/Neuwirth-Masaot.aspx

Filed under: Maerzmusik, MärzMusik, new music, Olga Neuwirth

Kinan Azmeh’s Ambitious, Wondrous New Double Album: Uneven Sky

When he has time to recharge is a well-kept secret, but soon after introducing his impressive Clarinet Concerto at Seattle Symphony in February, the Syrian clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh released Uneven Sky, an ambitious and far-ranging double album he recorded with the Berlin-based Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester — a city where Azmeh is especially loved, making frequent appearances with his various musical partners at the Pierre Boulez Saal in the center of the city. Manuel Nawri is the conductor.

What a cornucopia this is. The first CD is filled with three of Azmeh’s own compositions. He also plays the solo clarinet parts here, kicking off with a signature piece, Suite for Improvisor and Orchestra from 2008. It’s a signature piece not only because of the mesmerizing personality and virtuosity this artist radiates with his instrument, but also because it exemplifies the centrality of improvisational creativity in Azmeh’s philosophy. In his own words, he “tries to blur the lines between the composed and improvised,” which comes from “my belief that the best written music is the one that sounds spontaneous and improvised, and the best improvisation is the one that sounds structured and composed.”

He continues with the sublime Ibn Arabi Suite, inspired by the great medieval Arab Muslim mystic, philosopher, and poet who traveled widely and reached the end of his life in Azmeh’s native city of Damascus. It was commissioned and premiered by the Osnabrück Symphony in 2013. He partners here with fellow Syrian Dima Orsho, a soprano who, like Azmeh, completed her musical education in the U.S. Azmeh explains that the Suite was “inspired by a school of thought in which free thinking is sacred as much as the religious beliefs. [It] reflects a journey from the rather minimalist opening Prelude through the reflective middle movement Recitation and ending with what can only be described as an obsessive ritualistic dance in the concluding Postlude.”

The third composition, The Fence, the Rooftop and the Distant Sea, is a duo Azmeh wrote for himself and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, which they introduced at the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie in 2017. In the composer’s words: “A fence, a rooftop, and the distant sea were all present facing my desk while I finished the piece in Beirut in December 2016. These elements were a reminder of how near my hometown of Damascus was, yet how far it seemed after being away for five years. The piece is about the random memories of individuals, more precisely about two characters searching for memories from home…”

On the second CD, Azmeh appears as the soloist in three concertos written specifically for him, each by a different Syrian composer whom he admires. First comes Adrift on the Wine-Dark Sea by Kareem Roustom (born 1971), who, like Azmeh, resettled in the U.S. Roustom provides this commentary: “”The clarinet plays the role of Odysseus/refugee and the orchestra the role of the sea and all the hurdles that stand in the way of home/refuge … [concluding with what] could be a peaceful place of refuge or … an afterlife. It is up to the listener to decide the fate of Odysseus/refugee.”

Zaid Jabri (born 1975), who was mentored by Krzysztof Penderecki and is now based in Norway, wrote his Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra on the request of Azmeh, who decided to introduce a new work with the Syrian National Orchestra on the occasion of the opening of the new opera house in Damascus in happier times in 2004. The score was considered “too contemporary,” however, such that only a part of it was played at the opening. This recording offers the entire, nearly half-hour work unadulterated.

Closing the second CD is the work from an earlier generation of Syrian composers: Suite for Clarinet and Orchestra (“Paroles”) by Dia Succari (1938-2010). Succari moved on to Paris, studying with Messiaen and himself remaining mostly active in France. Explains Ara Guzelimian of the Juilliard School: “[Succari] devoted himself to a deep study of the maqam, the system of melodic modes which is the basis of composition and improvisation in traditional Arabic music. Messiaen himself noted in a letter that Succari’s music is based on ‘rhythms and modes of Arab character’ while never falling into the trap of imitating folkloric music. That subtle balance is at the heart of Succari’s atmospheric Paroles (2005/06) for clarinet and orchestra, which filters its Arabic references through an unmistakably French orchestral sonority and sensibility, much as Debussy and Ravel evoked Iberia in an earlier generation.”

Filed under: clarinet, Kinan Azmeh, new music

Yuval Sharon’s Berlin Flute Seeks to Put the Magic Back in Mozart

Papageno (Florian Teichtmeister) and Tamino (Julian Prégardien) in The Magic Flute credit: Monika Rittershaus : Staatsoper Berlin

Papageno (Florian Teichtmeister) and Tamino (Julian Prégardien), with dead serpent, in The Magic Flute (credit: Monika Rittershaus / Staatsoper Berlin)

BERLIN — In his program note for the new production of The Magic Flute that he directed for Berlin Staatsoper, Yuval Sharon recalls the image of a young girl in Ingmar Bergman’s 1975 film version who is repeatedly shown to be deeply absorbed watching a performance of Mozart’s opera unfold. She represents the ideal audience member for this work, according to Sharon, because she retains the childlike capacity for wonder.

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Filed under: directors, Musical America, review, Yuval Sharon

John Harbison Comes to Seattle

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If you’re in Seattle over the next few days, don’t miss the chance to experience John Harbison in person, who will perform at the keyboard with his wife, violinist Mary Harbison at Octave 9 tonight. AND Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony give the West Coast premiere on Thursday and Saturday of Harbison’s new work for organ and orchestra What Do We Make of Bach?. The program also includes a Stokowski Bach transcription and the last of Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies.

For more background on John Harbison, here’s my profile for a recent edition of Strings magazine:

Filed under: American music, Bach, John Harbison, Seattle Symphony

Seattle Symphony’s Octave 9

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Derek Bermel, left, and Seth Parker Woods perform in Octave 9, Seattle Symphony’s new performance venue. Parker Woods is curating… (James Holt / Seattle Symphony)

My Seattle Times story on the newly launched Octave 9 space and the upcoming 24-hour contemporary music marathon:

Octave 9, the name of Seattle Symphony’s new performance venue, hints at the sense of potential yet to be tapped: The modern concert grand piano is limited to a standard range below eight octaves. Designed for artists who want to reach for that metaphorical extra octave and beyond, the space has been outfitted with cutting-edge digital acoustic and visual technology.

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Filed under: new music, programming, Seattle Symphony

World Premiere of Dreamers

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If you can’t make the world premiere of Dreamers this weekend by composer Jimmy López and playwright Nilo Cruz, don’t miss the live stream of Sunday afternoon’s concert (3pm West Coast time). Esa-Pekka Salonen is the conductor.

For more background, here’s my preview of a work that could not be more timely.

Filed under: Cal Performances, Jimmy López, new music

Der Kindheit Verzauberung

Tonight was the final performance of Berlin Staatsoper’s new Zauberflöte production, directed by Yuval Sharon. Very happy to have been able to catch this — report forthcoming for Musical America. (Available here.)

Filed under: Berlin Staatsoper, directors, Mozart, Musical America, Yuval Sharon

Liszt Meets Dante

“It is hard to say what the characteristics of Dante’s Hell are. Turmoil, hurry, incessant movement, fire, roaring wind, and utter discomfort are there; but so they are also in a London house when the kitchen chimney is on fire.” — George Bernard Shaw on Liszt’s “Dante” Symphony — an amusing but facile put-down.

Filed under: Franz Liszt, music criticism

San Francisco Symphony’s 2019-20 Season

Here it is: Michael Tilson Thomas’s farewell season with the San Francisco Symphony has just been announced.

MTT concludes his quarter-century tenure with the orchestra with a season that features a notably more diverse lineup of contemporary composers than has been the case with his usual programming. The season will include commissions and world premieres of works by John Adams, Julia Wolfe, MTT, Ghiannon Giddens, Mason Bates, Camille Norment, Adam Schoenberg, Pamela Z, and Aaron Zigman. There will also be first SFS performances of music by Tania León, Allison Loggins-Hull, Wynton Marsalis, Jessie Montgomery, Steven Stucky, and MTT. All of this is folded into a programmatic theme called “celebrating the American Sound.” MTT’s beloved Mavericks will also be heard from again: Copland, Ives, Ruggles …

Also exciting is the announcement of season-long artist residencies by soprano Julia Bullock, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter (which include not only at SFS concerts but events such as recitals, SoundBox shows, and community initiatives).

Of course there will be Mahler: MTT will conduct the ultra-bleak Sixth, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny), and — as the grand finale to the MTT era, leading us upward: the Faustian Eighth.

Oh, and did you forget it’s the “Beethoven Year”? Which means, for SFS, the Second, Fifth, and Seventh Symphonies and the Second Piano Concerto and the Violin Concerto, plus some all-Beethoven recitals (Yefim Bronfman, Igor Levit, and Anne-Sophie Mutter).

And Esa-Pekka Salonen will give a foretaste of his upcoming directorship over two weeks of concerts.

Complete press release here.

Filed under: programming, San Francisco Symphony

Derek Bermel at Octave 9

This afternoon, in Seattle Symphony’s new Octave 9 space, Derek Bermel and friends present Brooklyn to Ballard. The program, featuring cellist Seth Parker Woods, pianist Ethan Iverson, and Seattle Symphony musicians, will focus on the permutations of jazz and its inspiration on a wide range of composers. Bermel additionally collaborates with Seattle-based visual artist Barbara Earl Thomas.

Filed under: American music, new music, Seattle Symphony

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