MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Life Is Live

One sign of hope at least in the music world with regard to live performance: Lucerne Festival, after having to cancel its meticulously planned Summer Festival, has announced a short festival of 10 days that will take its place. Unlike the United States, Switzerland has a functioning government that has actually taken the coronavirus pandemic seriously and is thus in a position to start carefully relaxing restrictions on audience gatherings.

Titled Life Is Live, the short festival includes Martha Argerich and Herbert Blomstedt with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in the opening concerts, as well as a pair of recitals by Igor Levit, who continues his complete Beethoven sonata cycle.

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, Lucerne Festival, music festivals, music news

Happy Birthday to George Walker

In honor of George Walker’s birthday — he would have turned 98 on Saturday — here’s my profile for the New York Times published last year, ahead of the posthumous premiere of his Sinfonia No. 5.

Deeply entrenched racism drove Walker away from his career as a concert pianist to the solitary existence of a composer. This extraordinary musical personality was shamefully neglected throughout his long life yet continued producing intricate, masterfully wrought scores. Here’s hoping that Walker’s upcoming centennial will be the catalyst needed for a wholesale engagement with his rich oeuvre.

“A Composer’s Final Work Contains ‘Visions’ of an American Master”

Filed under: American music, George Walker, new music

Damien Geter’s African American Requiem

Learn more about composer (and bass-baritone and actor) Damien Geter‘s remarkable new work, An African American Requiem, in my cover story for the current issue of Chorus America’s The Voice, which explores this and other examples of “secular requiems” by contemporary composers (starts on p. 26).

The world premiere by Portland’s Resonance Ensemble, which commissioned the work, was originally scheduled for May but had to be postponed because of the pandemic. Resonance now plans to give the premiere on 22 January 2021.

Filed under: African-American musicians, American music, choral music, new music

Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival Goes Forward

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James Ehnes, Seattle Chamber Music Society artistic director, in the recording studio he set up while sequestered at his home near Tampa, Florida, where he just completed recording Bach’s solo violin Sonatas and Partitas. (Courtesy of Kate Ehnes)

Here’s my story about Seattle Chamber Music Society’s plan to go forward with its beloved, month-long Summer Festival with an online version.

Along with its terrible human toll, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the performing arts. Cancellation announcements are now so routine that the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s (SCMS) decision to proceed with a 2020 Summer Festival comes as a welcome respite…

continue

Meanwhile, here’s something from James Ehnes’s makeshift home studio. I’ll write more about his latest project there in an upcoming post.

Filed under: chamber music, James Ehnes, music news, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Philip Glass’s Akhnaten at the Met

The Metropolitan Opera’s nightly streams include some really special offerings this coming weekend, both of which are being made available to the public for the first time on the Met’s streaming platform — these are not available in the Met on Demand Video and Audio Catalogue. These are Satyagraha and Akhnaten, two of the operas from Philip Glass’s “Portrait Trilogy.” Both are in the productions brilliantly directed by Phelim McDermott. Karen Kamensek conducts the performance of Akhnaten given last fall on 23 November 2019.

Here’s my program essay for Akhnaten to help prepare for the stream on Saturday 20 June 2020:

On January 6, 1907, the entrance to a rock-cut tomb was uncovered in
the Valley of the Kings outside modern-day Luxor, Egypt. The mummy
safeguarded within may have been the preserved body of the pharaoh
Akhnaten (today more commonly known as Akhenaten). Rigorous DNA testing
conducted in 2010 was reported to have confirmed that identification, though
the matter remains hotly contested—like just about everything else associated
with this most controversial of ancient Egypt’s vast lineage of rulers.

continue (starts on p. 10)

Click to access 112319-akhnaten.pdf

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, Phelim McDermott, Philip Glass

Porgy and Bess Roundtable from PostClassical Ensemble

Following up on my post from the beginning of the month, here’s a distillation of PostClassical Ensemble’s 10 June zoom chat titled “Porgy and Bess Roundtable: What’s It About and Who’s Singing It?”

The panelists include George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to sing lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera, the bass-baritone Kevin Deas, one of the leading Porgys on today’s scene, Conrad Osborne, an expert in opera in performance, will also join in, and PCE founder Joseph Horowitz, with Bill McGlaughlin hosting. They also sample some historic Porgy recordings.

For more on this topic, here is Horowitz’s recent post: “Porgy Takes a Knee — Porgy and Bess and the American Experience of Race“:

“It’s interesting that Gershwin chose as his protagonist a person who’s on his knees. ‘Taking a knee’ has never been more relevant.”

continue

Filed under: African-American musicians, American music, George Gershwin, PostClassical Ensemble

A Live Concert from the Shanghai Philharmonic

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Live orchestral music making is slowly returning to Mainland China. My colleague Rudolph Tang alerted me to this concert from the Shanghai Philharmonic, which is now being streamed from its Facebook page.

More than 150 days since it had to shut, the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra resumed its season with this live concert yesterday led by music director Zhang Yi. A socially distanced audience was in attendance, and the concert marks a major effort to globally stream orchestral music from Mainland China.

This isn’t another chamber concert with just a handful of players, as we’ve been increasingly seeing as concert halls in Europe and Asia tentatively return to business. The centerpiece here is nothing less than the stage-crowding Rite of Spring.

Rudolph Tang attended the concert. He reports that the audience was about 350 strong and “had to go through a series of checkpoints, including body temperature check, filling out forms, showing their QR codes, and metal detection” and were additionally required to wear masks throughout the program.
He adds: “The orchestra encored veteran Chinese composer Shi Wanchun’s Long Live the People after Rite. It’s the theme music of the hugely popular film The Founding of the Nation (1989) about how the PRC was formed. The concert was enthusiastically received and the global streaming initiative was covered widely by the local newspapers.”

An image provided by Rudolph Tang
Shanghai-Philharmonic

More from the press release here.

Filed under: classical music in Mainland China, music news

Ojai Talks: 2020 Virtual Festival

UPDATE: Wiener Staatsoper will stream Olga Neuwirth’s new opera Orlando (conducted by Matthias Pintscher) on 23 June from its platform here. Apparently you will need to use a VPN set to a location in Europe to stream (inaccessible to USA), but that’s an easy work-around.

Ara Guzelimian hosts these fascinating conversations with this year’s Ojai Festival artists. I’ll post them as they become available. The first three are now live:

Conversation with 2020 Music Director Matthias Pintscher about his background and his friendship with Pierre Boulez (11 June)

Conversation with Matthias Pintscher and featured artist Olga Neuwirth (12 June)

Conversation with and performances by the Calder Quartet (13 June)

Conversation with Steve Reich (14 June)

Here’s my essay for the overall program: The Art of Transitions

And my program notes for each of the ten events are all to be found in the online program book under that tab here.

Filed under: Asra Guzelimian, Matthias Pintscher, Ojai Festival, Olga Neuwirth

Ojai Music Festival: Virtual Edition

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On Thursday through Sunday, 11-14 June, Ojai Festival presents a virtual edition of what was to have been its 74th festival. Artistic Director Chad Smith and Music Director Matthias Pintscher curated a splendid program, with Olga Neuwirth and Steve Reich as special featured guests. This also would have marked the Ojai debut of the Ensemble intercontemporain — of which Pintscher is current director and which was founded by his mentor Pierre Boulez, a longtime presence at Ojai.

This is my own first year of being associated with Ojai, so this cancellation has hit me especially hard. But you’ll have a chance to hear Ara Guzelimian, incoming Artistic Director, in some wonderful conversations with Pintscher, Neuwirth, Reich, and members of the Calder String Quartet.

You can read my program essay here. My program notes for each event are linked on the respective pages.

Filed under: new music, Ojai Festival

Tobias Picker’s New Opera Awakenings

Here’s another premiere that was forced to cancel: Awakenings, the latest opera from Tobias Picker, which has been scheduled to open at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Its source is the fascinating book by Oliver Sacks — who had been a good friend of Picker — about those who survived an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica in the 1920s.

Sacks drew on his work with this patients in the 1960s for Awakenings, originally published in 1973, which prompted W.H. Auden’s verdict that the book is a masterpiece. Harold Pinter was inspired by Awakenings to write his play A Kind of Alaska; a movie of the Sacks book was made in 1990, starring Robin Williams.

The writer and physician Aryeh Lev Stollman, who is Picker’s husband, wrote the libretto. The world premiere production was to have been directed by James Robinson and conducted by Roberto Kalb, with Jarrett Porter creating the role of Dr. Oliver Sacks.

Here’s a link to an interactive conversation that was held by OTSL about the planned production.

Filed under: American opera, Tobias Picker

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