MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Tessa Lark and Andrew Armstrong at Cal Performances

Cal Performances at Home opens its season with a violin-piano recital by Tessa Lark and Andrew Armstrong on October 1 at 7pm PDT. The program includes:

BARTÓK (arr. Székely)Romanian Folk Dances
YSAŸESonata No. 5 for Solo Violin
SCHUBERTFantasy in C major, D. 934
GRIEGViolin Sonata No. 3 in C minor
RAVELTzigane

I had the pleasure of writing program notes for this performance, which can be found here. The stream was filmed exclusively for Cal Performances on location at Merkin Hall, Kaufman Music Center, New York City, on August 17, 2020. There will also be a pre-concert conversation with Tessa Lark and Cal Performances executive and artistic director Jeremy Geffen. 

Filed under: chamber music, music news, violinists

Rethinking Romanticism: Early Music’s Latest Adventures in Time Travel

The fall edition of Early Music America’s magazine carries my new article on encounters between historically informed performance and Romanticism:

 Revolutions have a way of coming full circle. As the HIP movement began spreading more than half a century ago, its bracing challenge to conventional interpretations echoed the rebellious spirit of the 1960s…

continue (PDF)

Kent Nagano on his collaboration with Concerto Köln to prepare for a HIP Ring

Filed under: early music, Early Music America, Romanticism, Schumann, Wagner

New John Luther Adams Memoir

Today brings a new book from John Luther Adams, mark it well: Silences So Deep: Music, Solitude, Alaska:
“In the summer of 1975, the composer John Luther Adams, then a twenty-two-year-old graduate of CalArts, boarded a flight to Alaska. So began a journey into the mountains, forests, and tundra of the far north—and across distinctive mental and aural terrain—that would last for the next forty years.

Silences So Deep is Adams’s account of these formative decades—and of what it’s like to live alone in the frozen woods, composing music by day and spending one’s evenings with a raucous crew of poets, philosophers, and fishermen. From adolescent loves—Edgard Varèse and Frank Zappa—to mature preoccupations with the natural world that inform such works as The Wind in High Places, Adams details the influences that have allowed him to emerge as one of the most celebrated and recognizable composers of our time. Silences So Deep is also a memoir of solitude enriched by friendships with the likes of the conductor Gordon Wright and the poet John Haines, both of whom had a singular impact on Adams’s life. Whether describing the travails of environmental activism in the midst of an oil boom or midwinter conversations in a communal sauna, Adams writes with a voice both playful and meditative, one that evokes the particular beauty of the Alaskan landscape and the people who call it home.

Ultimately, this book is also the story of Adams’s difficult decision to leave a rapidly warming Alaska and to strike out for new topographies and sources of inspiration. In its attentiveness to the challenges of life in the wilderness, to the demands of making art in an age of climate crisis, and to the pleasures of intellectual fellowship, Silences So Deep is a singularly rich account of a creative life.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Gordon Brooks Wright

We are in the middle of nowhere.

All the other musicians of the Arctic Chamber Orchestra have flown off to the next stop on our tour of villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. With only our backpacks, a duffel bag full of music stands, and a pair of kettledrums, Gordon Wright and I are here alone at this remote airstrip, waiting for the plane to return.

It is early April. The world around us is an endless expanse of white. After the long night of winter, the sun has come back to the north. The morning is resplendent, but the air is cold. So we stand on the south side of the little shack next to the airstrip, basking in the warm light. Everything is golden… [continue]

Filed under: book recs, John Luther Adams

YOLA: Shaping Tomorrow’s Voices Today

My story about YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) for the new issue of Strings magazine is now online:

YOLA has become a signature of the Gustavo Dudamel era. Its creation predates his first season at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009 and shows the influence of the educational philosophy that shaped him…

Filed under: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Strings

George Walker’s Sinfonia No. 4

In the spring of 2019, the Seattle Symphony gave the posthumous world premiere of George Walker’s Sinfonia No. 5 (more background in my New York Times story here). Simon Rattle was hoping to give the UK premiere with the Chineke! Orchestra at the BBC Proms, but the pandemic scuttled that plan.

So he scheduled Walker’s concise Sinfonia No. 4 (“Strands”) on the London Symphony Orchestra’s program for this week. The concert will be repeated and streamed online by Marquee TV on 19 September at 1.30pm ET and then available on demand. Also on the program (notes here): Darius Milhaud’s La création du monde and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

Filed under: George Walker, music news

Bohemia, Bombay, Bloomington: The Musical Exile of Walter Kaufmann

How many voices were silenced by the Nazis — how much music was lost or marginalized as a result of the Holocaust and World War Two? Today at 5 p.m. PST/8 p.m. EST, an online discussion of Czech/American composer Walter Kaufmann (1907–1984) will take place in connection with the Royal Conservatory of Music’s ARC Ensemble first-ever recording devoted to Kaufmann’s chamber music.

The conversation will explore the issue of lost repertoire in the 20th century and efforts to reclaim it. Speakers include the conductor James Conlon; Robert Elias, Director of the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices at the Colburn School; and Simon Wynberg, Artistic Director of the Royal Conservatory of Music’s ARC Ensemble.

There will also be live performances by the ARC Ensemble and students of the Colburn School. The event will be hosted on the Colburn School’s YouTube and Facebook accounts. Watch it here. Following the discussion, attendees can participate in a live Q&A session via YouTube’s chat feature.

Filed under: music news

Inside the George Walker Cello Sonata with CelloChat

Panelists Astrid Schween, Emmanuel Feldman, Owen Young, and Seth Parker Woods will discuss George Walker’s three-movement Cello Sonata from 1957 in this two-part offering from CelloBello.

Part 1: Saturday, 19 September at 12:00 pm EDT

Part 2: Saturday, 26 September at 12:00 pm EDT

For my Strings magazine profile of George Walker in 2017, Seth Parker Woods shared the following remarks about the Cello Sonata: “In playing [this piece], you’re engulfed in a state of beauty and episodic turmoil. One of the things I love is that its amazing melodic lines fit perfectly in the hand, as if they were molded all along for a cellist. It’s a brilliant work that I really would love to see more and more younger and older cellists performing. George Walker’s music is of monumental status and importance.” 

Filed under: American music, cello, George Walker, Seth Parker Woods

Heartbeat Opera’s Secret Sauce

This week (14-20 September), the ever-innovative company Heartbeat Opera is celebrating its seventh anniversary with seven virtual soirées hosted by seven special guests, including the likes of Julia Bullock, Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Derrell Acon. Tickets available here.

Each soirée is 75-90 minutes long and features three videos from various past productions, following which leaders from Heartbeat engage in a discussion moderated by the special guest. Each soirée also includes a live preview performance of The Extinctionist — the company’s first newly commissioned opera, scheduled for this coming spring — and an intimate talkback for audience members to ask questions in a breakout room.

More on the Secret Sauce:

Filed under: Heartbeat Opera, music news

Giora Feidman Trio: The Spirit of Klezmer

Tonight Giora Feidman makes his long-awaited debut at Boulez Saal in Berlin — in his Trio formation, with friends Enrique Ugarte and Guido Jäger. Some background in my program essay here.

Filed under: klezmer, Pierre Boulez Saal

Double Entendre

Martha Argerich and her friend violinist Renaud Capuçon are finding an accommodation to coronavirus spacing restrictions that is very generous: by playing the same program twice, back-to-back, as in tonight’s recital at Victoria Hall in Geneva.

The complete program: Beethoven/Sonata No. 8 in G major, Op. 30, no 3 and the Franck Violin Sonata.

I’d love to hear how their takes on César Franck’s great sonata compare between the 6.30 and 9pm concerts. This is one of the possible contenders Proust had in mind as his model for the Sonata for Piano and Violin by composer Vinteuil (no first name) in À la recherche du temps perdu — see “La Sonate pour piano et violon” de Vinteuil: Réflexion sur un intitulé inhabituel” by Jean-David Jumeau-Lafond in the Bulletin Marcel Proust:

Excerpt from Swann’s Way:

So Swann was not mistaken in believing that the phrase of the sonata did, really, exist. Human as it was from this point of view, it belonged, none the less, to an order of supernatural creatures whom we have never seen, but whom, in spite of that, we recognize and acclaim with rapture when some explorer of the unseen contrives to coax one forth, to bring it down from that divine world to which he has access to shine for a brief moment in the firmament of ours. This was what Vinteuil had done for the little phrase. Swann felt that the composer had been content (with the musical instruments at his disposal) to draw aside its veil, to make it visible, following and respecting its outlines with a hand so loving, so prudent, so delicate and so sure, that the sound altered at every moment, blunting itself to indicate a shadow, springing back into life when it must follow the curve of some more bold projection. And one proof that Swann was not mistaken when he believed in the real existence of this phrase, was that anyone with an ear at all delicate for music would at once have detected the imposture had Vinteuil, endowed with less power to see and to render its forms, sought to dissemble (by adding a line, here and there, of his own invention) the dimness of his vision or the feebleness of his hand.

The phrase had disappeared. Swann knew that it would come again at the end of the last movement, after a long passage which Mme. Verdurin’s pianist always ‘skipped.’ There were in this passage some admirable ideas which Swann had not distinguished on first hearing the sonata, and which he now perceived, as if they had, in the cloakroom of his memory, divested themselves of their uniform disguise of novelty. Swann listened to all the scattered themes which entered into the composition of the phrase, as its premises enter into the inevitable conclusion of a syllogism; he was assisting at the mystery of its birth. “Audacity,” he exclaimed to himself, “as inspired, perhaps, as a Lavoisier’s or an Ampere’s, the audacity of a Vinteuil making experiment, discovering the secret laws that govern an unknown force, driving across a region unexplored towards the one possible goal the invisible team in which he has placed his trust and which he never may discern!” How charming the dialogue which Swann now heard between piano and violin, at the beginning of the last passage. The suppression of human speech, so far from letting fancy reign there uncontrolled (as one might have thought), had eliminated it altogether. Never was spoken language of such inflexible necessity, never had it known questions so pertinent, such obvious replies. At first the piano complained alone, like a bird deserted by its mate; the violin heard and answered it, as from a neighbouring tree. It was as at the first beginning of the world, as if there were not yet but these twain upon the earth, or rather in this world closed against all the rest, so fashioned by the logic of its creator that in it there should never be any but themselves; the world of this sonata….

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, Martha Argerich, music news, Renaud Capuçon

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