MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle Modern Orchestra’s Season Opener

Seattle Modern Orchestra has announced a thoughtful season of online concerts, which opens Friday evening (23 October 2020) at 7.30pm PST. Tickets are priced at a highly reasonable $10 to view online.

The season-opening virtual program includes the world premiere of Simultaneously Solitary composed by Tom Baker specifically in response to our socially distant experience. There will also be pieces for solo instruments by Lou HarrisonEdison Denisov, and Cornish faculty member Jarrad Powell. The Concert conclude withs In Memoriam Muhal Richard Abrams by Tyshawn Sorey.

More on the program from SMO:

ABOUT OUR FEATURED COMPOSER:

Tom Baker, Composer/Guitarist/Improviser/Electron-icist/Educator

Tom Baker has been active as a composer, performer, and producer in the Seattle new-music scene since arriving in 1994. He is the artistic director of the Seattle Composers’ Salon, co-founder of the Seattle EXperimental Opera (SEXO), an advisory board member of the Washington Composers’ Forum, founder of the new-music recording label Present Sounds Recordings, and is currently professor of composition at Cornish College of the Arts.

Tom has received awards and grants for his work from many organizations, including Meet The Composer, the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, 4Culture, and Artist Trust. He has been an artist-in-residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida and the Montalvo Arts Center in California. His works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, and in Europe.

Tom is also active as a performer and improviser, specializing in fretless guitar and live-electronics. He has recorded seven albums, including two solo records. Triptet, a trio with Michael Monhart and Greg Campbell, recently released its third album, Figure in the Carpet, on Brooklyn-based Engine Records. Tom has worked with many innovative musicians, including Stuart Dempster, William O. Smith, Christian Asplund, Chinary Ung, Ellen Fullman, Matana Roberts, and Henry Threadgill.Copyright 2010-2020 Seattle Modern Orchestra. All rights reser

Filed under: Seattle Modern Orchestra

Whispers of an Italian-Jewish Past Fill a Composer’s Music

Here’s a link to my latest story for the New York Times, which is about the extraordinary composer Yotam Haber. He is the recipient of the 2020 Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music — one of three biannual Azrieli Music Prizes. Haber’s new piece, Estro Poetico-armonico III, will receive its world premiere on 22 October at 8pm ET via free livestream on medici.tv and the Azrieli Facebook page.

Filed under: commissions, new music, New York Times

Bernard Herrmann’s Whitman

aThe latest production from PostClassical Ensemble explores a side of Bernard Herrmann that is scarcely acknowledged today. Herrmann is best known for his chilling score to Psycho and six other Alfred Hitchcock films, as well as his collaborations with Orson Welles. But he started out as a conductor at CBS, becoming music director of the pioneering  Columbia Workshop.

As a significant contributor to the medium of radio drama, Herrmann in 1944 composed music for Whitman, a drama focusing on Leaves of Grass. The half-hour show was produced by Norman Corwin with a contemporary aim: to boost morale back at home during the Second World War. Those were the days when millions of Americans tuned in to radio drama — in this case, a drama about a poet, with a first-rate, fresh score as accompaniment.

Angel Gil-Ordonez conducts the ensemble and William Sharp as the poet in this newly restored version of Whitman released on Naxos. In conjunction with the release, PCE has also produced the documentary Beyond Psycho– The Musical Genius of Bernard Herrmann. The film features commentary by Joseph Horowitz (who regards Hermann as “the most underrated 20th-century American composer”), Gil-Ordonez, Karen Karbiener (a Whitman scholar), Murray Horwitz (an expert on radio drama), Dorothy Herrmann (the composer’s daughter), and Alex Ross. 

Filed under: American music, PostClassical Ensemble, radio drama

Parsifal at the Met

I had meant to post a link to my program essay (starts on Ins2) for the Met’s recent Wagner Week, which culminated in François Girard’s darkly visionary production from 2013, starring Jonas Kaufmann, Katarina Dalayman, Peter Matei, René Pape, and Evgeny Nikitin, with Daniele Gatti conducting.

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, Wagner

New from Sarah Kirkland Snider

When I was researching material for my cover story Secular Requiems for the recent issue of Chorus America’s magazine The Voice, I came across so many relevant contemporary compositions that it was painful not having the space to cover more of them.

The American composer Sarah Kirkland Snider‘s Mass for the Endangered offers yet another angle on the concept of a requiem, though it doesn’t use that term. Kirkland collaborated with the poet Nathaniel Bellows, who crafted a libretto juxtaposing parts of the traditional Ordinary Mass with elegiac meditations on our era of extinction and the threat humanity poses to the natural world.

“I wanted to open the gates in my mind between centuries-old European vocal traditions and those of more recent American vernacular persuasion, and write from a place where differing thoughts about line, text, form, and expression could co-exist,” says Kirkland.

Mass for the Endangered was commissioned by Trinity Church Wall Street as part of a project curated by Daniel Felsenfeld. It was premiered there in April 2018 and was recently released as a collaboration between New Amsterdam Records, which Kirkland cofounded, and Nonesuch Records.

The new recording features the English vocal ensemble Gallicantus and instrumentalists, with Gabriel Crouch conducting. Scored for SATB chorus, piano, string quintet, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, harp, and percussion, Mass for the Endangered is something of a departure for a composer whose aesthetic outlook has been characterized as “post-genre.”

Kirkland explains: “The origin of the Mass is rooted in humanity’s concern for itself, expressed through worship of the divine—which, in the Catholic tradition, is a God in the image of man. Nathaniel and I thought it would be interesting to take the Mass’s musical modes of spiritual contemplation and apply them to concern for non-human life—animals, plants, and the environment. There is an appeal to a higher power—for mercy, forgiveness, and intervention—but that appeal is directed not to God but rather to nature itself. As someone not traditionally religious who draws enormous spiritual and artistic inspiration from the natural world and is deeply concerned about climate change, the text spoke to me on a personal level.”

“[B]ecause of the global crisis we’re facing and the losses we’ve already suffered, the music can’t just be a celebration—it has to also be an elegy, and a plea. I tried to let the music acknowledge some of that, even in its most exuberantly joyous moments.” 

Filed under: choral music, new music

23rd Beijing Music Festival

The 23rd Beijing Music Festival (BMF), which runs 10-20 October (11-21 October in the West), will combine an online and offline festival into a 10-day, nonstop, 240-hour marathon of concerts, operas, documentary films, commentary, and more.

Audiences in Beijing can attend the concerts and those in the rest of China can watch the whole festival, live from their mobile device or computer. The following concerts (Western dates) will be posted for foreign audiences on BMF’s Facebook page:

October 11: Opening Concert

October 12: Suzhou Chinese Orchestra

October 13: Beethoven Violin Sonatas

October 14: Beethoven Violin Sonatas II

October 15: Beethoven Violin Sonatas III

October 16: Yuan Shen (pianist) Recital

October 17: Jiayi (pianist) Recital

October 18: Sleepover at the Museum

October 19: BMF Children’s Concert

October 20: Liushen (Opera singer) Recital

October 21: Closing Concert

This year’s festival has planned around the theme “The Music Must Go On” in this time of “the new normal.”

The Opening Concert features a world premiere, Dedicated to 2020,  which is a choral symphony jointly commissioned by BMF and the China Philharmonic Orchestra and written by Wuhan composer Ye Zou, who will also lead the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra, the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, and the Wuhan-born musicians of the China Philharmonic Orchestra in the premiere.

Singers Liping Zhang and Leiming He, who are both from Wuhan, will take the stage along with the Wuhan Conservatory of Music Choir and Beijing Music Association Chorus.

Other highlights this year include all 10 Beethoven violin sonatas performed (one each) by some of China’s rising-star violinists, the premiere of the Suzhou Chinese Orchestra, virtual performances by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, and performances by the BMF Children’s Orchestra.

From the press release:

BMF is adapting by offering both online and offline channels for viewers. From October 10 to 20, the Festival will present 20 performances, including orchestral concerts, chamber music, solo recitals, and opera films, among other events. The range of offerings spans across the Western classical music canon, Chinese orchestral music, jazz, cross-over, and other categories.

Three series of concerts are organized around the themes “Beijing and Wuhan” (in which musicians jointly present the idea of joining together to fight the epidemic with the commissioned work, Dedicated to 2020), “Celebrating Beethoven’s 250th Anniversary,” and “Born in 2000.

There will also be a drive-in Carmen, two sets of three BMF children’s concerts, ten “Music at Noon” concerts, and the BMF debut of the Suzhou Chinese Orchestra. In order to allow more audiences to witness the festival, the offline performances during the BMF will be broadcast live online via multiple platforms. 

Online, more than 240 hours of audio and video programs will be fully presented to audiences on the BMF Club APP. More than 100 classical musicians, cross-over artists, and celebrities from film, television, and drama will be brought together to participate in the BMF online shows.

Says BMF Artistic Director Shuang Zou: “This year, the sudden pandemic outbreak broke our original plan for the festival. Under the forward-looking guidance of the Chairman of the artistic committee, Long Yu, the BMF team responded to the changes with keen and immediate action. This year, the festival presents 240 hours of non-stop, high-quality music including nearly a hundred operas and nearly a thousand classical music works. Coordinating with musicians and artists at home and abroad, we have made a bold attempt to break boundaries. Let music belong to every music lover, and let love be unrestricted.”

Cooperation in the introduction of a variety of audio and video products; Standardization in the use of copyright

BMF believes securing copyrights is important not only to protect the economic interests of creators but also to protect the artistic vitality of creators. In order to present more than 240 hours of such programs, BMF has selected more than 2,000 pieces of music of all kinds and cooperated with a number of performing art agencies and copyright parties in the introduction of live concert videos, feature films, documentaries, and other diverse audio and video productions.

Maestro Long Yu, Chairman of the Beijing Music Festival, stresses the importance of this decision, stating, “Copyrights are an important aspect for musicians’ survival, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when most concerts are taking place online. We need to pay respect to these great artists who still overcome many difficulties and work hard in order to continue to perform for music lovers. One of the most important ways we can help is to raise copyright awareness and to pay respects through it. BMF strives to lead the standardization of copyright use in China’s music market. This provides all audiences with the highest quality of authentic music and sends a message that China has made a very important contribution to the protection of intellectual property rights.”

BMF teams up with world-renowned classical music labels such as Naxos China, Universal Music Group, and Sony Music to ensure that every piece is used in accordance with globally-recognized legal norms and that all music is played “genuinely” on its platform in order to track, verify, and identify copyright transactions and usage patterns.

Copyright cooperation with the world’s major record companies, compliance with relevant laws and regulations, and respect for the premise of artistic creation achieves a win-win situation between music festivals, copyright parties, and audiences. The Beijing Music Festival once again leads the industry in this major step in the field of copyright regulation. 

As a pathfinder in China’s classical music industry, BMF is recognized in innovation and creativity by the industry, so that artists and copyright-holders are all maintaining strong faith in this year’s new planning model. Beijing Music Festival’s growing circle of international friends includes the world’s best performing arts agencies and major record companies, so copyright cooperation between both sides can quickly reach mutual trust and benefit. BMF has extremely high appeal and influence among audiences, who believe that every piece of music from BMF tells a story and stands scrutiny.

To introduce Western classical music culture to China, to present and support Chinese musicians to the world, and to lead the standardization of copyright use in the Chinese music market, the Beijing Music Festival leads the Chinese industry in achieving the goal of connecting with a world platform and moving forward together.

A 240-hour online music feast

For the 2020 edition, the BMF Club APP, an online knowledge-sharing platform for the Beijing Music Festival, will bring music lovers and concertgoers online through in-depth and informative knowledge-sharing courses, relying on the artists and content providers of the Beijing Music Festival throughout the last 22 years. This year’s Beijing Music Festival of 240 hours of performances will also be presented in full on the BMF Club APP. 

The main focuses will be classic opera in the series “Nessun Dorma”; “Music Storyville,” which showcases the best stories in music; and the “Music is Boundless” Documentary Series, which records the path of cross-over musicians’ exploration, and more.

In 2020, the change from the traditional offline music festival to an organic combination of 240 hours of non-stop online and offline programs refreshes the industry’s concept of a music festival

Numerous online features combine classical music and other categories of art at the same time, transforming the traditional mode of viewing classical music into an indispensable link in the modern way of life. It breaks through the constraints of time and space allowing music culture to take root in the city.

Besides the traditional evening concerts, this year’s Beijing Music Festival will continue and upgrade the “Music at Noon” concerts which began in 2019, by targeting office workers and the general public during their lunch breaks, so that classical music in the fast-paced urban life can grow. 

From more than 240 hours of programs to nearly 50 thoughtfully planned, high-quality features, BMF creates a new model of an offline-online combination for classical music festivals, providing classical music institutions around the world with a template for the transformation.

Maestro Long Yu states: “A 240-hour nonstop festival has never been attempted by anyone in the classical music industry. The Beijing Music Festival has been an industry leader for 23 years, inspiring the world through its great innovation in performing arts and operations. The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 may have changed the original ecology of the classical music industry, but BMF stands ready to lead the industry in a big step forward to face these new challenges.”

Tributes to heroes through memorial music highlights a rich theme; BMF supports young musicians to shine on the international stage

Rising through the tribulations and moving forward in the face of adversity, millions of people in Wuhan united as one against the epidemic. With a tragic and heroic epic, the brave city needs to be paid homage for going through the difficult times. Dedicated to 2020 — A Symphony for Soprano, Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra, a choral symphony jointly commissioned by BMF and the China Philharmonic Orchestra and composed by Wuhan composer Ye Zou, will have its world premiere at the Grand Opening Concert on October 10.  Under the baton of the composer himself, the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra, the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, and the Wuhan-born musicians of the China Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the new work on stage.

Meanwhile, singers Liping Zhang and Leiming He, who are both from Wuhan, will take the stage along with the Wuhan Conservatory of Music Choir and Beijing Music Association Chorus.  In 2020, musicians around the world planned to celebrate Beethoven’s 250th anniversary. For more than 20 years, Beethoven’s music has been part of the regular repertoire of BMF. During this year’s festival, Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, five piano concertos, ten violin sonatas, and nine symphonies will be presented to the audience through online and offline performances.  

From October 12 to 14, a special featured section will culminate in performances of the Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas featuring ten rising-star violinists including Haoming Xie, Yige Chen, Yiliang Jiang, Wendi Wang, Runyin Zhang, Huali Dang, Qianxun Su, Ming Liu, Zhenyang Yu, and Ruifeng Lin. All ten acclaimed violinists are in their twenties or thirties and have won high-profile international awards in recent years.

In 2017, BMF and Nestlé jointly established the Nestlé Cup-Young Musician Award, which aims to reflect BMF’s encouragement and expectations for China’s “Star of Hope” and to provide them with an opportunity to communicate with the world. The Nestlé Cup-Young Musician Award of the 23rd Beijing Music Festival will be awarded to these ten violinists. Given the opportunity to showcase on a high-profile stage like BMF, these young musicians will have the change to receive widespread attention from national and international audiences.

Throughout the ten-day audio and video live broadcast, the audience revisits the Beijing Music Festival’s 23 years of glorious history. Masterworks staged at BMF are played again. Musicians and conductors attend guide-in sessions with the audience to recall wonderful moments of their own historical performances. In the Music High Tea series, Jian Wang, Weiling Xu, Hongguang Jia, and other performers who have won the “Artist of the Year” honor at BMF are reunited online to talk about art and life. Qigang Chen, Xiaogang Ye, Wenjing Guo, Long Zhou, and other Chinese composers meet with the audience to relive the unforgettable past in the process of telling Chinese stories and extending Chinese voices since the “Chinese Concept” was first proposed at the Beijing Music Festival in 2002.

With ten days of live audio and video, the audience is integrated into the international circle of friends of the Beijing Music Festival. In 2019, BMF welcomed the first resident orchestra, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (MCO), and this year the MCO will present two concerts specially planned for the festival’s audience. In 2020, Krzysztof Penderecki, the conductor and composer with close ties to BMF, passed away, and his documentary will be broadcast during the festival in memory of the great Polish musician.

In addition, works of Beethoven, whose 250th birthday is this year, as well as classic pieces by composers such as Mozart, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky, and operas by composers like Verdi, Puccini, and Wagner, will be broadcast live. The Beijing Music Festival’s consistently high standards have been extended to live streaming online, with more than 2,000 pieces of music screened in detail: a full Beethoven symphony recorded by Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, and a full set of Der Ring des Nibelungen recorded by Jaap van Zweden and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

Comprehensive innovation and upgrading of outreach projects;

BMF Children Festival Orchestra plays Beethoven’s Fifth

Outreach projects are some of the most distinctive and shining attributes of the Beijing Music Festival brand. With the development and expansion of the festival, its connotation is constantly extending, expanding, and upgrading. This year, BMF provides outreach activities with rich forms and themes for audiences of different ages, levels, and preferences through various online and offline channels.

In 2020, the BMF Children Festival Orchestra has been upgraded, and after a fresh, open recruitment, the orchestra expanded its lineup to 100 musicians, who will play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the festival. The BMF Children Festival Orchestra is a display platform for music-loving teenagers created by Beijing Music Festival. As an important part of a public welfare project of the festival, the BMF Children Festival Orchestra adheres to the principle of social equality, and does not charge any fees to students during selection, teaching, rehearsals, or performances. Especially in the context of the impact of the epidemic on normal life in 2020, BMF invites maestros of different instruments to guide each student by recording online lessons and instruction, so as to ensure the smooth progress of learning and rehearsal.

In order for the children’s orchestra to develop continuously, normatively, and professionally, BMF has formulated a long-term strategic plan, matched many resources, and strived to create a more vast stage and a longer development space. “BMF provides a golden key for children to open a door and starts a path from the children’s concert to the BMF Children Festival Orchestra. It brings them happiness, growth, and dreams; and provides a lifetime of spiritual wealth and a future of infinite possibility. We are doing our best to help this children’s orchestra go further,” said He Yu, chairman of Kuke Music. From 2020, Kuke Music will fully support the BMF Children Festival Orchestra and integrate its own music education products and resources to help its members.

Another children’s concert, Sleepover at the Museum Online Podcast, also meets with children during this festival. The combination of music and a children’s book creates an opportunity for kids to explore museums and to roam the ocean of knowledge, igniting curiosity in a fun way. In addition, the performance invites mysterious guests to act as narrators and lead children to participate in it.

The Music at Noon concerts, an outreach project jointly created by BMF and Beijing Music Broadcasting (FM97.4), will also be upgraded in 2020. It organically combines live performance with radio, making classical music break through the limitations of time and space and connecting with more people through radio waves. Traditional radio programs become more vivid through the addition of live performances. This year’s lunchtime concerts continue the concept of “Music all around and Music all the time.” Compared with the evening concerts, the venue of the lunchtime concerts goes deep into public spaces such as office buildings, attracting everyone from classical music fans to white-collar groups and office workers, thus attracting more audiences to pay attention to music and improve the quality of life. At the same time, the number of performances expanded to ten (October 11-October 20) throughout the festival.

In addition, BMF has also moved outreach projects such as concert guides online. The offline concerts conduct live interviews with musicians, and the musicians themselves interpret the music and share their insights. Online, for different genres of music – such as opera, symphony, and chamber music – BMF invites singers, conductors, performers, and many other musicians to introduce their works and share their own performance experiences, and to combine music with life experience, so as to make the traditional guided tour of music works more vivid and more comprehensible.

It is the duty of the Beijing Music Festival to support young artists and provide fresh faces for Chinese classical music. At the closing concert on October 20, Long Yu conducts the China Philharmonic Orchestra with five young artists born in 2000 –Mingyue Yu, Ruifeng Lin, Nana Ouyang, Xiaofu Ju, and Shen Liu. Huang Yanxiong, head of the China Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra, also joins on stage to celebrate and commemorate the 20th anniversary of the China Philharmonic Orchestra and Poly Culture Company with the theme “We were born in 2000.”

Filed under: Beijing Music Festival, music news

Music of Luca Francesconi at Boulez Saal

Luca Francesconi

Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin continues to buzz with a remarkably varied program of events — including this chamber concert by the Boulez Ensemble directed by Daniel Barenboim. Along with pieces by Beethoven and Schumann, the program offers a chamber-cameo of the fascinating composer Luca Francesconi.

Across the street over at the Staatsoper, Francesconi’s much-produced opera Quartett — based on Heiner Müller’s deconstruction of Les liaisons dangereuses — is at last getting its Berlin premiere. I well remember the US premiere production at the 2017 Spoleto Festival, which I covered for Musical America and Opera Now. And before the pandemic intervened, Francesconi’s new opera Timon of Athens was scheduled to be premiered at the Bayerische Staatsoper.

I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing Francesconi and writing about his work for the Boulez Saal program book.

The video above is from an interview last year, when Barenboim premiered Daedalus, a work newly commissioned for Boulez Saal.

Filed under: Daniel Barenboim, new music, Pierre Boulez Saal

Covid fan tutte

Very much enjoying this “update” from Finnish Opera of Mozart’s ingenious opera buffa, which has just opened the company’s season. With Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting and staging by Jussi Nikkilä, this abridged version of the original features a libretto by Minna Lindgren rewritten for today and referencing the coronavirus pandemic and reality shows.

Cast: FIORDILIGI Miina-Liisa Värelä, DORABELLA Johanna Rusanen, FERRANDO Tuomas Katajala, GUGLIELMO Waltteri Torikka, DESPINA Karita Mattila, DON ALFONSO Tommi Hakala, INTERFACE MANAGER Sanna-Kaisa Palo, MOUZART Ylermi Rajamaa, COVID VIRUS Natasha Lommi

Meanwhile, here’s a recent tribute to the amazing Karita Mattila, who plays Despina in this production.

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, directors, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mozart

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