MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Walt Whitman at 200

walt-whitman

I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.
Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.
I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn’d over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart,
And reach’d till you felt my beard, and reach’d till you held my feet.
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap’d stones, elder, mullein and poke-weed.

–Song of Myself, V

Born two hundred years ago in the town of West Hills on Long Island, Walt Whitman embodies a voice that Americans are in dire need of hearing and heeding again.

Mark Edmundson has written a perceptive reflection on Whitman’s legacy in this month’s Atlantic:
“Whitman speaks to our moment in many ways. One of them is quite simple: At a time when Americans hate one another across partisan lines as intensely perhaps as they have since the Civil War, Whitman’s message is that hate is not compatible with true democracy, spiritual democracy.”

His poetry has inspired a remarkable range of composers. Here’s a sampling of my favorites:

–George Walker, Lilacs

–Ralph Vaughan Williams, A Sea Symphony

–Frederick Delius, Sea Drift

–John Adams/The Wound-Dresser

–Paul Hindemith/When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d

Please share your own favorites!

Filed under: poetry, Walt Whitman

Yuval Sharon on Three Years with the LA Phil

Looking forward to his upcoming Meredith Monk project:

Filed under: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Yuval Sharon

Innovations — and Results — at the California Symphony

Based in the Bay Area suburb Walnut Creek, the California Symphony has been getting some amazing results from its outreach programs in recent years, according to the story Shaking Up the Symphony by Laura Fraser in the April issue of Southwest: The Magazine. Since being “on the brink of financial collapse” in 2014, writes Fraser, “ticket sales have increased by 70 percent, concerts are frequently added to keep up with the demand, and the number of donors has nearly quadrupled” — all since Aubrey Bergauer began her tenure as executive director.

Fraser interviewed music director Donato Calabra as well, who said: “People think that to bring in younger audiences you need ‘The Symphony Meets the Beatles,’ but a Beethoven symphony is amazing to anyone. You don’t have to ‘symphonize’ pop music. We needed to change the experience, not the repertoire.”

Jeremy Reynolds of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette follows up on the story in this article. Even though the California Symphony’s budget and audience are a fraction of PSO’s, he explores possible lessons that may be drawn for much larger organizations from California’s success.

Filed under: music news

Heinz Holliger at 80

“My entire relationship with music is such that I always try to reach its limits.”

The extraordinary Swiss oboist, composer, conductor, teacher, and all-around musical personality Heinz Holliger turns 80 today — his creativity undimmed.

Later in the week, ECM is releasing Zwiegespräche, an intriguing gathering of “dialogues”: works for oboe by Holliger and György Kurtág, who share a strikingly similar aesthetic. Both studied under Sándor Veress and, notes Roman Brotbeck in his liner notes, “both use the entire history of music as a frame of reference, both love miniatures, both speicalize in homage to friends and colleagues and cultivate a living ‘Davidsbund’ with living and departed soulmates.”

Holliger plays oboe, English horn, and piano on the album and is joined by fellow oboist Marie-Lise Schüpbach, bass clarinetist Ernesto Molinari, soprano Sarah Wegener, and Philippe Jaccottet reciting seven of his poems for another remarkable dialogue here: Holliger responds to the poems with various formal strategies in Lecture pour hautbois et cors anglais (2015-16).

Last year at Zurich Opera I was mesmerized by Holliger’s latest stage work, Lunea. In this opera to a libretto by Klaus Händl, Holliger returns to one of the figures who has haunted him throughout his creative life: the Romantic poet and polymath Nikolaus Lenau, who was institutionalized in his final years. Holliger’s exquisitely refined musical sensibility and aesthetic of fragmentation, indirection, and dislocation work to tremendously powerful effect here in depicting the search for love and longing for eternity.

Holliger has been a formative presence for decades at the Lucerne Festival. Here’s an insightful interview (in German) with Christian Wildhagen.

And here a radio interview with Dorothea Bossert for SWR.

Filed under: anniversary, Heinz Holliger, new music

The Parting: New Opera by Tom Cipullo and David Mason at MOR

Radnóti-Miklós-1930

Miklós Radnóti

Here’s a Seattle Times preview of the upcoming world premiere of the new opera The Parting by Tom Cipullo and David Mason this Sunday.

The Parting is set during the final evening the poet Miklós Radnóti spends with his wife Fanni Gyarmati before he is sent into forced labor during the Holocaust. It’s the second commission from this team by Music of Rembrance, following their remarkable opera After Life four years ago.

When Mina Miller founded Seattle-based Music of Remembrance in 1998, she could hardly have foreseen that its mission would become even more distressingly relevant over two decades later…

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Filed under: commissions, Holocaust, Music of Remembrance, new music, new opera

Stumpsculpting

IMG_2487

Filed under: photography

Tod Machover on City Symphonies

Filed under: new music, Tod Machover

Martinů: Harpsichord Concerto

Thank you, Mahan Esfahani, for a lovely concert with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Bohuslav Martinů’s Harpsichord Concerto was the scintillating highlight. The clip above features Esfahani’s beloved mentor, Zuzana Růžičková, who championed this work.

The Martinů was especially welcome since I had been looking forward to his Concerto for Two Pianos last week with the NY Phil, only to have it replaced by a decidedly less satisfying Max Bruch rarity.

Another treat was Brett Dean’s chamber version of Till Eulenspiegel, a witty and fluent arrangement of Strauss’s orchestral tone poem for nonet.

Filed under: harpsichord, Mahan Esfahani, Martinů

Bruch Plus Strauss: Curious Pairing, Inspired Playing in Semyon Bychkov’s Latest NYPO Engagement

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Semyon Bychkov © Umberto Nicoletti

For his recent pair of programs guest conducting the New York Philharmonic over the past two weeks, Semyon Bychkov has made a point of combining familiar repertoire with new discoveries. At the end of April, it was a Brahms symphony with the American premiere of Thomas Larcher’s Symphony no. 2 (Kenotaph), a response to the tragedy of refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean. The Russian returned to the podium for a second program that placed Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben side-by-side with a piece that might as well have been a premiere: the last time the NY Phil performed the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (Op.88a) by Max Bruch was in 1917.

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Filed under: Max Bruch, New York Philharmonic, review, Strauss

Jupiter Quartet’s Alchemy

At the end of this week, the Jupiter String Quartet (now in its 16th year together) releases Alchemy (Marquis Classics), an album of four works commissioned by Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. Three of these receive their world premiere recordings here: Pierre Jalbert’s Piano Quintet (2017); Steven Stucky’s Piano Quartet (2005); and Carl Vine’s Fantasia for Piano Quintet (2013). Also included is Jalbert’s Secret Alchemy for violin, viola, cello, and piano (2012).

All of the premieres occurred at the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival. Australian pianist Bernadette Harvey joins the Jupiters (violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel, and cellist Daniel McDonough). Harvey also performed in the world premieres of Secret Alchemy and Vine’s Piano Quintet.

From the press release:

Pierre Jalbert’s Piano Quintet consists of four separate, contrasting movements: ‘Mannheim Rocket,’ a modern take on the 18th-century musical technique in which a rising figure speeds up and grows louder; ‘Kyrie,’ a chromatically transformed chant-like motive; a scherzo in which the strings and piano sometimes alternate and imitate each other, reacting to each other’s gestures, and at other times combine and synchronize to produce a more blended sound; and ‘Pulse,’ made up of perpetually moving 8th notes, but always pushing forward.

As one who loved nothing more than to play the piano quartets of Mozart, Brahms, Fauré, during his youth as a violist, Steven Stucky was inspired by these works his entire career, and later by 20th-century piano quartets of Copland, Palmer, Hartke, and Weir. Stucky noted that, “Attempting my own first work in this medium at the comparatively late age of 55, has stirred conflicting emotions—intimidation at the idea of ‘competing’ against the masters, but also a feeling of coming home to familiar, much loved surroundings.”

Stucky’s Piano Quartet is in one continuous movement, but flows in and out of many distinct sections: A short allegro (Risoluto) presents the theme and introduces bell-like sonorities that will recur throughout the piece. In the next, slow section (Lento, molto cantabile), the piano continues to imitate bells. A fast interlude (Allegro) reverses the roles—strings take on the bell sounds and leads quickly to a scherzo (Scherzando e molto leggero) conjuring the composer’s memories of pop music. The trio (Comodo, non affrettato) makes way to a second slow movement, with the piano now cast as soloist, and a brisk coda recalling the clangorous bell sounds of the opening.
Carl Vine (b.1954): Fantasia for Piano Quintet

Carl Vine writes about his Fantasia: “I call this single-movement piano quintet Fantasia because it doesn’t follow a strict formal structure and contains little structural repetition or recapitulation. The central section is generally slower than the rest and is followed by a presto finale, but otherwise related motifs tend to flow one from the other organically through the course of the work. It is ‘pure’ music that uses no external imagery, allusion, narrative, or poetry.”

Pierre Jalbert’s Secret Alchemy for for violin, viola, cello, and piano:
“With any new composition, there is a sense of discovery and mystery during the creative process,” says Jalbert, and of the title, explains, “Though this piece is not programmatic, imagining the air of secrecy and mysticism surrounding a medieval alchemist at work provided a starting point for the piece.”

Composed in four separate and contrasting movements, Jalbert notes, “The first movement begins with this sense of mystery. String harmonics are used to create the rhythmic backdrop for melodic lines played by the cello and later, the viola. The second movement is a relentless scherzo characterized by pizzicato strings, turbulent piano writing, and quickly alternating rhythmic patterns. The third movement is influenced by medieval music with its use of open 5ths, chant-like lines played non-vibrato by the strings, and reverberant piano harmonies, simulating the sound and reverberation in a large cathedral. The fourth movement concludes the work with an energetic music characterized by strings playing fast measured tremolo figures (rapid movement of the bow back and forth on the string). These alternate with the piano’s massive chords and occasional rapid melodic figures, along with muted tones emanating from inside the piano.”

Track listing:
[1-4] Pierre Jalbert: Piano Quintet (2017) 18:08

I. Mannheim Rocket 3:03

II. Kyrie 6:57

III. Scherzo 3:33

IV. Pulse 4:35

[5] Steven Stucky: Piano Quartet (2005) 17:26

[6] Carl Vine: Fantasia for Piano Quintet (2013) 15:46

[7-10] Pierre Jalbert: Secret Alchemy for violin, viola, cello, and piano
(2012) 16:46

I. Mystical 4:00

II. Agitated, relentless 3:15

III. Timeless, mysterious, reverberant 5:28

IV. With great energy 4:03

Pierre Jalbert (b. 1967): Piano Quintet
(premiered by Jupiter Quartet and Bernadette Harvey on March 19, 2017)

Filed under: chamber music, recommended listening

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