MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

RIP Bernard Haitink (1929-2021)

Bernard Haitink has died. The 92-year-old conductor passed away peacefully at home, according to his representatives.

I had the privilege of attending his very final concert, in the summer of 2019, when he led the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Lucerne Festival. He maintained a close association with Lucerne for many years, including a nearby residence. Haitink’s farewell song was Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 (without score), paired with Beethoven’s G major Piano Concerto, with Emanuel Ax as the soloist.

Christian Wildhagen penned an eloquent review: ““Hatte er zuvor bei Beethovens 4. Klavierkonzert vorrangig Emmanuel Ax, einem feinsinnigen Pianisten der alten Schule, in nobel-zurückhaltender Weise die Bühne bereitet, so kam bei Bruckner noch einmal der grosse Architekt, der überragende Formgestalter Haitink zur Geltung. Wie beim späten Günter Wand wird die Detailarbeit hier mitnichten zur Nebensache, sie bildet aber lediglich die Basis für eine viel weiter ausgreifende Gestaltung, in der Entwicklungen teilweise über drei, vier Minuten behutsam entfaltet werden (etwa in der magischen Rückführung zur Reprise im ersten Satz oder beim grossen Wagner-Epitaph im Adagio), während sich die Spannungsbögen sogar bruchlos über ganze Sätze wölben.”

That summer–the last before the pandemic–there was also a vernissage for the publication of Erich Singer and Peter Hagmann’s fine collection of essays and conversations with Haitink: Dirigieren ist ein Rätsel. An English translation has yet to be issued.

Filed under: Bernard Haitink, Lucerne Festival, music news

Fidelio at San Francisco Opera

A scene from Act One: image (c) Corey Weaver

There was a lot of excitement in the air at the opening of San Francisco Opera’s new production of Fidelio, which had been delayed for a year for obvious reasons. Here’s my review for Musical America:

Filed under: Beethoven, Musical America, review, San Francisco Opera

Joy and Sorrow Across the Waters

UPDATE: Here’s a link to this lovely concert.

Byron Schenkman & Friends launch their ninth season on Sunday, 17 October, with the program Joy and Sorrow Across the Waters. It promises to be a fascinating program, presenting traditional music and stories of the Coast Salish People alongside 17th-century European Baroque music for violin and harpsichord from Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. The performers include Native American flutist Paul Chiyokten Wagner, Ingrid Matthews, and Byron Schenkman.

This free digital premiere will launch at 7:00 PM, Pacific Time, and remain available on the BS&F website (www.byronandfriends.org) and the BS&F YouTube channel (https://youtube.com/c/ByronSchenkmanFriends). Free access; donations welcome here.

The program lineup:

Bartolomeo de Selma y Salaverde: Canzona III (for violin and continuo)
Maddalena Casulana: Amor per qual cagion (for harpsichord)
Paul Chiyokten Wagner: Elk Spirit Calls (for flute and drum)
Jan Pieterszon Sweelinck: Unter der Linden grüne (for harpsichord)
Johann Schop: Lachrymae Pavan (for violin and continuo)
Paul Chiyokten Wagner: Skitu: story of a merwoman
Paul Chiyokten Wagner: Gentle Crystalline Waters (for solo flute)
Paul Chiyokten Wagner & Byron Schenkman: Salish Sea Improvisation (for flute and harpsichord)
Andrea Falconieri: La Monarca (for violin and continuo)
Giovanni Battista Fontana: Sonata III (for violin and continuo)

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, music news

Two Pianos, 40 Fingers: Judith Cohen & Friends

The beloved Seattle-based pianist Judith Cohen will be joined Jill Timmons, Terry Spiller, and Dean Williamson for an intriguing edition of the Governor’s Chamber Music Series on Sunday, 10 September, at 3pm at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, WA. Titled Two Pianos, 40 Fingers, the eight-hands program includes music by Liszt, Debussy, Ravel, Piazzolla, and more.

Filed under: music news

New Violin Concerto from Arturo Márquez: Fandango

This week’s concerts — which were originally scheduled to introduce Francisco Coll’s violin concerto for Patricia Kopatchinskaja — are instead presenting the PNW premiere of Fandango by the Mexican composer Arturo Márquez, written for Anne Akiko Meyers (shown in the video above performing the premiere of Adam Schoenberg’s Orchard in Fog with the San Diego Symphony and Sameer Patel).

Meyers premiered Fandango to acclaim in August at the Hollywood Bowl, with Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Seattle Symphony, led by guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, is performing the concerto again on Saturday at 8.00pm PST, along with Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide.

SSO is also making the stream of Thursday’s performance available to watch until 14 October here (Fandango starts at 18:15).

Here is the composer’s commentary on Fandango:

“The Fandango is known worldwide as a popular Spanish dance and specifically, as one of the fundamental parts (Palos) of flamenco. Since its appearance around the 18th century, various composers such as S. de Murcia, D. Scarlatti, L. Bocherini, Padre Soler, W. A. Mozart, among others, have included Fandango in concert music. What little is known in the world is that immediately upon its appearance in Spain, the Fandango moves to the Americas where it acquires a personality according to the land that adopts and cultivates it. Today, we can still find it in countries such as Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico, in the latter and specifically in the state of Veracruz and in the Huasteca area, part of 7 states in eastern Mexico, the Fandango acquires a tinge different from the Spanish genre; for centuries, it has been a special festival for musicians, singers, poets and dancers. Everyone gathers around a wooden platform to stamp their feet, sing and improvise tenth-line stanza of the occasion. It should be noted that Fandango and Huapango have similar meanings in our country. 

In 2018 I received an email from violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, a wonderful musician, where she proposed to me the possibility of writing a work for violin and orchestra that had to do with Mexican music. The proposal interested and fascinated me from that very moment, not only because of Maestra Meyers emotional aesthetic proposal but also because of my admiration for her musicality, virtuosity and, above all, for her courage in proposing a concert so out of the ordinary. I had already tried, unsuccessfully, to compose a violin concerto some 20 years earlier with ideas that were based on the Mexican Fandango. I had known this music since I was a child, listening to it in the cinema, on the radio and listening to my father, a mariachi violinist, (Arturo Márquez Sr.) interpret huastecos and mariachi music. Also since the 90’s I have been present admiring the Fandango in various parts of Mexico. I would like to mention that the violin was my first instrument when I was 14 years old (1965), curiously, I studied it in La Puente California in Los Angeles County where fortunately this work will be premiered with the wonderful Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of my admired Gustavo Dudamel. Beautiful coincidence as I have no doubt that Fandango was danced in California in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Fandango for violin and orchestra is formally a concerto in three movements:

  1. Folia Tropical
  2. Plegaria (Prayer) (Chaconne)
  3. Fandanguito

The first movement, Folia Tropical, has the form of the sonata or traditional classical concert: Introduction, exposition with its two themes, bridge, development and recapitulation. The introduction and the two themes share the same motif in a totally different way. Emotionally, the introduction is a call to the remote history of the Fandango; the first theme and the bridge, this one totally rhythmic, are based on the Caribbean “Clave” and the second is eminently expressive, almost like a romantic bolero. Folias are ancient dances that come from Portugal and Spain. However, also the root and meaning of this word takes us to the French word “Folie”: madness.

The second movement: Plegaria pays tribute to the huapango mariachi together with the Spanish Fandango, both in its rhythmic and emotional parts. It should be noted that one of the Palos del Flamenco Andaluz is precisely a Malagueña and Mexico also has a huapango honoring Malaga. I do not use traditional themes but there is a healthy attempt to unite both worlds; that is why this movement is the fruit of an imaginary marriage between the Huapango-Mariachi and Pablo Sarasate, Manuel de Falla and Issac Albeniz, three of my beloved and admired Spanish composers. It is also a freely treated chaconne. Perhaps few people know that the Chaconne as well as the Zarabanda were two dances forbidden by the Spanish Inquisition in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, long before they became part of European baroque music. Moreover, the first writings on these dances place them in colonial Mexico of these centuries.

The third movement “Fandanguito” is a tribute to the famous Fandangito Huasteco. The music of this region is composed of violin, jarana huasteca (small rhythm guitar) and huapanguera (low guitar with 5 orders of strings) and of course accompanies the singing of their sones and the improvisation sung or recited. The Huasteco violin is one of the instruments with the most virtuosity in all of America. It has certain features similar to baroque music but with great rhythmic vitality and a rich original variety in bow strokes. Every Huasteco violinist must have a personal version of this son, if he wants to have and maintain prestige. This third movement is a totally free elaboration of the Huasteco Fandanguito, but it maintains many of its rhythmic characteristics. It demands a great virtuosity from the soloist, and it is the music that I have kept in my heart for decades.

I think that for every composer it is a real challenge to compose new works from old forms, especially when this repertoire is part of the fundamental structure of classical music. On the other hand, composing in this 2020 pandemic was not easy due to the huge human suffering. Undoubtedly my experience with this work during this period has been intense and highly emotional but, I have to mention that I have preserved my seven capital principles: Tonality, modality, melody, rhythm, imaginary folk tradition, harmony and orchestral color.”

Filed under: new music, Seattle Symphony, violinists

Elena Dubinets, Russian Composers Abroad

Russian Composers Abroad

The much-anticipated new book by the eminent musicologist and artistic programming genius Elena Dubinets has just been published: Russian Composers Abroad: How They Left, Stayed, Returned. I had the honor of contributing one of the cover blurbs for this study of a century of Russian émigré composers (especially from the 1970s on) and diasporic identities.

As Vice President of Artistic Planning and Creative Projects for Seattle Symphony, Elena Dubinets not only played a decisive role in shaping that institution — its international profile grew significantly under her tenure — but left a mark the American orchestral field generally.

To Seattle’s loss, Dubinets left the SSO just before the pandemic and has only recently embarked on a new path as Artistic Director of the London Philharmonic. The LPO is going through an exciting period of transition as it returns to live performances under its new Chief Conductor, Edward Gardner.

Highly recommended!

Filed under: book recs, music news

James Ehnes Named Gramophone’s Artist of the Year

Heartiest congratulations to an artist I have admired for many years. James Ehnes was named Artist of the Year at Gramophone’s recent annual awards ceremony. Charlotte Gardner writes eloquently of the violinist’s extraordinary recent accomplishments in a complete Beethoven sonata set as well as his pandemic project recording the Bach and Ysaÿe solo violin works: “Ehnes’s warm, golden sound is as much a constantly changing story of articulation and timbre as ever, but sounding even more emotionally up close and personal than ever before…”

It’s deeply gratifying to see such a deserving artist receive this distinction. Here’s the playlist Gramophone has put together in conjunction with this award:

https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/james-ehnes-artist-of-the-year-2021/pl.00129400a37847b9b3d5914a4f0c141e

Filed under: Gramophone, James Ehnes

Report on the 2021 George Enescu Festival

Here’s my report on the recent 25th edition of the George Enescu International Festival, published in today’s New York Times:

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania has a long record of defying the catastrophes history has served up, so it certainly would not allow the pandemic to derail the George Enescu International Festival, devoted to its premier musical native son, which ended on Sunday. At stake was not only the 25th edition of this country’s largest cultural event, but also the renewal of a global artistic exchange that this still-marginalized part of Europe considers essential to its development…

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Filed under: festivals, George Enescu, New York Times

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