MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle Chamber Music Society’s 2020 Winter Festival

This year really seems to be racing along at breakneck speed. We’re already in the middle of the 2020 Winter Festival presented by the Seattle Chamber Music Society.

I’ve got a bad case of FOMO since I wasn’t able to catch any of the the first three concerts last weekend. SCMS’s artistic director James Ehnes and his string quartet (violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Richard O’Neill, and cellist Edward Arron) launched the season with a major #Beethoven250 undertaking. They played no fewer than half of the Beethoven quartets, each program mingling examples from the three periods.

The clip above is of the Ehnes Quartet from some years ago playing Beethoven (I believe in Seoul)–at that time, the formation included Robert deMaine as the cellist. Anyone who was able to experience last weekend’s half-cycle: please share your reactions in the comments.

Tonight starts the second and final weekend of Winter Festival. The programming idea for Friday and Saturday is now about twos, threes, and fives: violin sonatas by Grieg and Mozart, piano trios by Schubert and Ravel, and the two magnificent string quintets of Brahms.

Sunday brings a matinee concert (3pm) of J.S. Bach concertos: Concerto for 2 Violins and Orchestra in D minor, BWV 1043; Concerto No. 5 for Harpsichord and Orchestra in F minor, BWV 1056; Concerto No. 4 for Harpsichord and Orchestra in A major, BWV 1055; and Concerto for 3 Violins and Strings in D major, BWV 1064R.

And each of these three concerts is prefaced by half-hour prelude recital, starting one hour before the concert begins and free of charge. There’s also an open rehearsal today, at Nordstrom Recital Hall, of the Op. 88 Brahms String Quintet, at 1:15pm.

Complete 2020 Winter Festival Calendar

Filed under: James Ehnes, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Juilliard’s 2020 Focus Festival: Pioneering Women Composers of the 20th Century

The 36th annual Focus Festival at Juilliard starts tomorrow with a fascinating program by the New Juilliard Ensemble and its director, Joel Sachs–the first of six free concerts to take place between Friday and January 31. (The clip above is of Mary Lou Williams performing “Roll ’em” from 1944, on the menu for Program III on Tuesday night.)

Joel Sachs, the mastermind behind Juilliard’s Focus Festival tradition, co-curated this year’s edition with Cuban-American composer and conductor Odaline de la Martinez.

If you’re in New York over the next week, it’s really worth considering a visit to one of these amazingly varied programs. Each one is full of discoveries.

The topic, Pioneering Women Composers of the 20th Century, was of course inspired by a desire to mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment being ratified.

Yet, as de la Martinez remarks: “Although prospects for women composers have improved greatly over the last few decades, let’s not forget how much more work needs to be done!”

In this preview by Joshua Barrone (with samples of several of the 32 composers on the roster), de la Martinez goes on to say: ““A lot of these composers have disappeared because people don’t know what to look for. And musicology used to teach only men. It’s about time to make cases for other composers, and women.”

View the complete program

Filed under: Juilliard

San Francisco Opera Announces 2020-21 Season


Season 98 at San Francisco Opera has been announced.

The lineup includes: Fidelio, Rigoletto, Così fan tutte, The Handmaid’s Tale by Poul Ruders, La bohème, The Barber of Seville, and Alexander Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg (“The Dwarf”). Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin will also appear in a concert titled A Celebration of Verdi and Wagner.

Immediately of note is the shift of the customary summer season to April and May (a consequence of renovations that will be taking place in the War Memorial Opera House). And there are now concerts for the traditional season opening as well as the third summer (now spring) season opera.

This season will be the first under new music director, Eun Sun Kim. But there are too many safe and predictable choices. I’m especially glad to see the Ruders (I reviewed the North American premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale at Minnesota Opera 17 years ago) and the gorgeous, heartbreaking, neglected Zemlinsky (which I reviewed just last year in Berlin)–though not sure how that will work as the sole offering.

Here’s the press release.

Complete 2020-21 Season listing:

FALL 2020

OPENING NIGHT CELEBRATION CONCERT with soprano Albina Shagimuratova and tenor Pene Pati; Eun Sun Kim conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra September 11, 2020 (8 pm)

FIDELIO by Ludwig van Beethoven NEW SAN FRANCISCO OPERA PRODUCTION September 12 (7:30 pm), 15 (7:30 pm), 18 (7:30 pm), 23 (7:30 pm), 27 (2 pm), October 1 (7:30 pm), 2020

RIGOLETTO by Giuseppe Verdi September 13 (2 pm), 16 (7:30 pm), 19 (7:30 pm), 22 (7:30 pm), 26 (7:30 pm), October 2 (7:30 pm), 4 (2 pm), 2020

COSÌ FAN TUTTEby Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart NEW SAN FRANCISCO OPERA PRODUCTION October 6 (7:30 pm), 11 (2 pm), 14 (7:30 pm), 17 (7:30 pm), 23 (7:30 pm), 28 (7:30 pm), 2020

THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Poul Ruders WEST COAST PREMIERE October 29 (7:30 pm), November 1 (2 pm), 11 (7:30 pm), 14 (7:30 pm), 17 (7:30 pm), 20 (7:30 pm), 22 (2 pm), 2020

LA BOHÈME by Giacomo Puccini November 15 (2 pm), 18 (7:30 pm), 21 (7:30 pm), 24 (7:30 pm), 28 (7:30 pm), 29 (2 pm), December 2 (7:30 pm), 3 (7:30 pm), 4 (7:30 pm), 5 (7:30 pm), 6 (2 pm), 2020

April 25 (2 pm), 28 (7:30 pm); May 1 (7:30 pm), 4 (7:30 pm), 7 (7:30 pm), 11 (7:30 pm), 14 (7:30 pm), 16 (2 pm), 2021

DER ZWERG by Alexander Zemlinsky COMPANY PREMIERE April 27 (7:30 pm), 30 (7:30 pm), May 5 (7:30 pm), 9 (2 pm), 15 (7:30 pm), 2021

LIANNA HAROUTOUNIAN & IRÉNE THEORIN IN CONCERT May 2 (2 pm), 6 (7:30 pm), 8 (7:30 pm), 2021
Henrik Nánási, conductor

Filed under: music news, San Francisco Opera

DSO’s New Music Director: Jader Bignamini

Congratulations to Jader Bignamini, who has been named the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s 13th music director. The young Italian conductor’s six-year contract begins this fall. He will fully take over in the 2021-22 season.

From Brian McCollum’s report for the Detroit Free Press:

DSO officials point to Bignamini’s musical knowledge, collaborative flair and dexterous leadership as traits that won them over. Most important, said Parsons, he has “the full support of our musicians,” four of whom sat on the search committee that ultimately zeroed in on the Italian.

For the New York Times, Michael Cooper observes:

Choosing a conductor who has been best known for opera — when he jumped in for Mr. Slatkin in 2018, it was for concert performances of Puccini’s “Turandot” — and who is not yet well known in the United States is something of a risk for this orchestra. The Detroit Symphony started the last decade with a painful strike and has been working to rebuild itself ever since, alongside its struggling city — in part by stressing accessibility and streaming concerts for free online.

Filed under: conductors, music news

Eötvös and Joyce

The Cuarteto Quiroga and Jörg Widmann recently performed this fascinating program centered around music by Peter Eötvös inspired by James Joyce at the Boulez Boulez-Saal. My essay for the program is here.

The video above is from the recording of Eötvös’ Sirens Cycle by the Calder Quartet and soprano Audrey Luna, which is the origin piece for the new Joyce-inspired works for string quartet and clarinet.

Filed under: chamber music, Pierre Boulez Saal

Patricia Kopatchinskaja Comes to Town


Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja returns to Seattle next week for concerts on Jan. 29-30 and Feb. 1. (Marco Borggreve)

My story about the matchless Patricia Kopatchinskaja, who comes to Seattle for a recital and concerts with the Seattle Symphony and Thomas Dausgaard:

Her Seattle Symphony debut drew blood. In April 2016, when Patricia Kopatchinskaja reached the final movement of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, her violin’s shoulder rest came loose. The screw that should have held it in place dug into her neck, breaking the skin. But the music wasn’t over yet.


Filed under: Kurtág, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, preview, Shostakovich, violinists

Eugene Onegin at Seattle Opera


Marjukka Tepponen (Tatyana) and John Moore (Onegin); (c) Sunny Martini

Just what is Onegin’s problem? The alienation embodied by Pushkin’s anti-hero obviously struck a powerful chord for Tchaikovsky – he wrote an immense symphony, after all, based on Byron’s version of the character type (Manfred) – yet it’s not until Tatyana’s name-day party at the beginning of the second act in Seattle Opera’s new production that we start to get a concrete sense of his identity…


Filed under: directors, review, Seattle Opera, Tchaikovsky

Schubert Week: Poets of the Lieder

Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin today is starting its festival devoted to the lieder of Franz Schubert, curated by Thomas Hampson. I wrote about Schubert and his poets for the program (p. 31ff).

Goethe provided the source for more Schubert songs than any other poet. A sample:

Nähe des Geliebten
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Ich denke dein, wenn mir der Sonne Schimmer
Vom Meere strahlt;
Ich denke dein, wenn sich des Mondes Flimmer
In Quellen malt.
Ich sehe dich, wenn auf dem fernen Wege
Der Staub sich hebt;
In tiefer Nacht, wenn auf dem schmalen Stege
Der Wandrer bebt.
Ich höre dich, wenn dort mit dumpfem Rauschen
Die Welle steigt.
Im stillen Hain da geh ich oft zu lauschen,
Wenn alles schweigt.
Ich bin bei dir, du seist auch noch so ferne.
Du bist mir nah!
Die Sonne sinkt, bald leuchten mir die Sterne.
O wärst du da!
Nearness of the Beloved

I think of you when sunlight
glints from the sea;
I think of you when the moon’s glimmer
is reflected in streams.
I see you when, on distant roads,
dust rises;
in the depths of night, when on the narrow bridge
the traveller trembles.
I hear you when, with a dull roar,
the waves surge up.
I often go to listen in the tranquil grove
when all is silent.
I am with you, however far away you are.
You are close to me!
The sun sets, soon the stars will shine for me.
Would that you were here!
[Translation © Richard Wigmore first published by Gollancz and reprinted in the Hyperion Schubert Song Edition]

Filed under: lieder, poetry, Schubert

Wozzeck: Live in HD from the Met

The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, directed by William Kentridge, will be broadcast this afternoon.

Filed under: Alban Berg, Metropolitan Opera, music news

RIP Neil Peart (1952-2020)

From Brian Hiatt’s appreciation in Rolling Stone:

Peart was one of rock’s greatest drummers, with a flamboyant yet precise style that paid homage to his hero, the Who’s Keith Moon, while expanding the technical and imaginative possibilities of his instrument… His drum fills on songs like “Tom Sawyer” were pop hooks in their own right, each one an indelible mini-composition; his lengthy drum solos, carefully constructed and packed with drama, were highlights of every Rush concert.

Filed under: obituary

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