MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

RIP Carlisle Floyd (1926-2001)

From NPR:

Composer Carlisle Floyd, widely viewed as a founding father of American opera, died Thursday at age 95 in Tallahassee, Fla. His death was announced by his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, which did not share the cause of his death.

Filed under: music news

Tolstoy Together: War and Peace

I’m a big fan of A Public Space’s online book club. Recently, APS began hosting an encore club to reread War and Peace with Yiyun Li, author of Tolstoy Together: 85 Days of War and Peace.

For reference, here are some quick links:

All of Yiyun Li’s daily posts are here; perspectives on the issue of translation, historical context, Tolstoy as a stage director, etc., here and here.

From A Public Space:

#TolstoyTogether | September 15 – December 8 
An Online Book Club—Free and Open to All 

The Schedule. We will read together daily for 85 days. A gentle schedule: 12-15 pages a day, around 30 minutes, that can provide an anchor this fall, when transitions bring hope, thrill, and sometimes uncertainty. Find the reading schedule here.

How It Works. The book club is free and open to all. Every morning, Yiyun Li shares notes on the day’s reading on A Public Space’s Twitter and Instagram accounts (@apublicspace) with the hashtag #TolstoyTogether. Readers share their thoughts and responses, and ask questions using #TolstoyTogether

Yiyun Li’s Daily Reading Journal for #Tolstoy Together can also be found here.

Tolstoy Together: 85 Days of War and Peace: Order your copy here.

From a recent conversation between among Yiyun Li, Garth Greenwell, Idra Novey at Politics & Prose Bookstore.

Filed under: book recs, literature

BBC Proms 2021

The recently concluded BBC Proms concerts are available online. Here’s a guest review of the 2021 edition of the Proms by Tom Luce:


Last year, in compliance with pandemic restrictions, the BBC had to limit both the number and accessibility of its annual Promenade Concert Festival concerts. There were fine and interesting concerts as usual in London’s huge Albert Hall. They were all broadcast but had no public audiences present.

This year, with great skill and imagination, the BBC has achieved a full program which complies with pandemic public health precautions. The Albert Hall stage was enlarged so that orchestral members could social distance from each other and the audience, and the public were admitted after showing proof of double vaccination or negative Covid tests. So nearly a year and a half after the near closure of public music-making, it has been revived.

The 46 concert programs had great diversity in content and performers. The classical composers and their modern successors were fully represented, but there was also a lot of non-European music and popular and folk-based items. How many festival programs have included not only Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, along with the usual Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Stravinsky, etc., but also music by Florence Price and Gity Razaz, n accordionist playing a Piazzolla tango, an evening devoted to a jazz saxophonist and composer, and another to the Golden Age of Broadway?

International travel restrictions meant that nearly all performing groups were based in the UK. As well as the BBC’s own and other regular British orchestras, a fine concert was provided by the Chineke! orchestra, and a chamber group consisting largely of members of the Kanneh-Mason family (cellist Sheku having memorably played Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with the Seattle Symphony three years ago), which delivered a charming performance of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals.

All of the concerts remain internationally available on BBC Sounds until mid-October. It’s hard to pick those most worthwhile to hear out of such a fine collection. My own preferences include a wonderful St. Matthew Passion performance by the Baroque-style Arcangelo group under their founder and director Johnathan Cohen, who with excellent soloists delivered both the dramatic crowd interventions and the intimate and reflective arias and recitatives with equal effectiveness (9 September); a magnificently played and conducted Tristan und Isolde from the Glyndebourne Festival (3 September); John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi team in a Bach cantata and a stunningly energetic performance of Handel’s Dixit Dominus (1 September); Simon Rattle and the London Symphony in a Stravinsky program (22 August); a fine delivery of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony by an orchestra of pandemic-impoverished freelance musicians specially brought together by the BBC (8 September); the Chineke! Orhcestra’s fine evening with rarely performed but very welcome  music by Florence Price, Samuel Taylor Coleridge Taylor, and Felo Sowande, as well as a Vivaldi concerto (24 August); and a superb rendering of Mozart’s last three symphonies by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (1 August).

In accordance with British tradition, the first and last nights were national events. I have elsewhere described the first night’s programming as very suitable to pandemic circumstances. A remarkable feature of the last night was a  beautiful choral arrangement of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Arranging the words from the Agnus Dei (“Grant them rest……….Grant us peace”) to this celebrated expression of grief was a wonderful addition to a public concert  occurring on 9/11, 20 years after the tragic events in the USA — a commemoration subtly conveyed by Hall ushers gently lifting the Stars and Stripes as it was sung.

All of the concerts I observed were attended by thousands in the Albert Hall, who responded very strongly, and these performances were no doubt heard by millions via radio. To experience such a public revival of real concerts and the profound effect of music on society has reminded me of two historic observations on music’s importance:

-Plato’s comment: “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe and wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm to sadness and gaiety to life and to everything”.

-”Musica: Laetitia comes medecina dolorum” (“Music: pleasure’s companion: grief’s remedy”), the inscription on the virginal in Vermeer’s painting The Music Lesson.

Filed under: BBC Proms, review

What’s Happening to Seattle Symphony’s Thomas Dausgaard?

Seattle Symphony just announced that Thomas Dausgaard, who was reportedly unable to join his orchestra for last weekend’s much-anticipated gala concert and comeback to live performance, has been “further delayed due to pandemic restrictions.” As the official press release phrases it: “Due to continued and unavoidable governmental delays, the Seattle Symphony’s Music Director Thomas Dausgaard is unable to join the orchestra for his originally scheduled Delta Air Lines Masterworks Series concerts in October.”

Why the “continued and unavoidable governmental delays” when other artists have successfully managed the paperwork and roadblocks? Are they really unavoidable?

Here’s the complete wording of the press release:

Seattle, WA — Due to continued and unavoidable governmental delays, the Seattle Symphony’s Music Director Thomas Dausgaard is unable to join the orchestra for his originally scheduled Delta Air Lines Masterworks Series concerts in October.

As Dausgaard’s work visa process continues to be severely stalled due to COVID-19-related travel issues, the Seattle Symphony has confirmed two renowned guest conductors as substitutes. Eight-time Grammy winner Giancarlo Guerrero will take to the podium on October 7 and 9 for vibrant concerts that include Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Arturo Márquez’s Fandango, a new violin concerto featuring revered soloist Anne Akiko Meyers. Meyers will be performing instead of the previously announced violinist, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, who also encountered pandemic travel restrictions. Music lovers can also stream the October 7 concert on Seattle Symphony Live. Then, on October 14 and 16, Stefan Asbury will make his Seattle Symphony debut for a performance featuring soprano and composer Adeliia Faizullina and her Tatar Folk Songs, which won the Seattle Symphony’s 2020 Celebrate Asia Composition Competition.

Filed under: music news, Seattle Symphony

Rebecca Saunders World Premiere at Lucerne Festival

The British-born, Berlin-residing Rebecca Saunders is this summer’s composer-in-residence at Lucerne Festival. Tonight brings the culminating event of her residency: the world premiere of her piano concerto to an utterance. She wrote it while working closely with the soloist Nicholas Hodges, in her signature fashion, to explore aspects of the instrument’s sound potential.

The premiere was originally to have taken place last summer and had to be postponed because of the pandemic. In another twist, Ivan Volkov, who was originally scheduled to conduct, had to bow out just last week for reasons of health. Composer-conductor Enno Poppe will lead the newly named Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra. They will then take the work to Musicfest Berlin.

“The solo piano within this concerto was conceived as a disembodied voice,” explains Saunders. “It seeks to tell its own story, wavering, almost painfully, inevitably failing to sustain its uncertain striving. It seeks to attain the silence of its end through its own excessive speaking: an incessant, compulsive soliloquy on the precipice of non-being.” 

The clip above is from a piece titled “Study,” based on the solo part, that Saunders presented last year at the Musikfest Berlin.

to an utterance is the tenth in the series of Roche Commissions sponsored by the pharmaceutical giant Roche. The latest composer to be commissioned has also been announced: Thomas Adés, who will write a violin concerto for Anne-Sophie Mutter to be unveiled in the summer of 2022.

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, music news, Rebecca Saunders, Roche Commissions, Thomas Adès

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