MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Andy Akiho’s Seven Pillars Premieres at Emerald City Music

Sandbox Percussion is scheduled to perform Andy Akiho’s “Seven Pillars” in Seattle on Dec. 3 and in Olympia on Dec. 4.  (Daniel Ashworth)
Sandbox Percussion is scheduled to perform Andy Akiho’s “Seven Pillars” in Seattle on Dec. 3 and in Olympia on Dec. 4. (Daniel Ashworth)

Seven Pillars, an epic for percussion quartet by the marvelous composer Andy Akiho, receives its live performance world premiere this weekend in Seattle by the Sandbox Percussion ensemble. My story for The Seattle Times:

“The spirit of percussion opens everything,” musician John Cage once declared. He had in mind the way percussion music can open the door to unaccustomed ways of listening — and even of perceiving the environment around us…..

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Filed under: new music, percussion, Seattle Times

You Say West Side, I Say East Side

This is quite wonderful, especially as the world commemorates Stephen Sondheim.

It’s worth recalling that the original scenario conceived by Jerome Robbins involved a Catholic versus Jewish conflict called East Side Story before the creative team changed it to Puerto Ricans versus whites. Bernstein originally imagined the core tritone theme as a shofar call.

Filed under: Leonard Bernstein, miscellaneous, Stephen Sondheim

San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Bowes Center Opens

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) has opened its Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts Center, transforming the Civic Center. Yo-Yo Ma was on hand to inaugurate the performance hall with a recital.

On 12 February 2022, there will be an open house for the public, with tours and performances throughout the day.

Here’s the report I wrote for the New York Times in 2018 when SFCM announced a major gift funding the new project, located just south of San Francisco City Hall.

Filed under: music news, San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Lee Mills Steps in to Conduct the Seattle Symphony in a Rare Program of Hannah Lash and Amy Beach 

Lee Mills with soloists Hannah Lash and Valerie Muzzolini and the Seattle Symphony (photo: James Holt / Seattle Symphony)

I reviewed Seattle Symphony’s latest program: a world premiere of a new double harp concerto by Hannah Lash and Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony:

SEATTLE — An unexpectedly last-minute round of musical chairs reshuffled the lineup for one of the most unusual and original programs of the Seattle Symphony season. As a double harp concerto, Hannah Lash’s The Peril of Dreams, an SSO commission, in itself represents a rarity in the orchestral literature. That it was paired with the seldom-programmed “Gaelic” Symphony by Amy Beach made the occasion all the more remarkable….

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Filed under: Musical America, new music, review, Seattle Symphony

New from Kinan Azmeh: FLOW

The clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh has just released a marvelous new studio album, FLOW, with the NDR Bigband. Recorded in October 2020 at Hamburg’s North German Broadcasting (NDR) Studio 1, the album presents a collaboration between Azmeh and the improvisatory jazz playing of the NDR Bigband musicians, with arrangements by Wolf Kerschek.

“Jazz has been an incredible vessel in accommodating and hosting other world music traditions,” says Azmeh, who was raised in Damascus, Syria, and is a graduate of New York’s Juilliard School. A member of the Silkroad Ensemble and other formations, Azmeh is a powerful new-music advocate and international performer. “[Jazz] does that so naturally by blurring the lines between the composed and the improvised,” he adds, “and also by celebrating the sound and ideas of every individual…. For me, the NDR Bigband is not only a jazz ensemble; I see it as a great and flexible collective of composers, arrangers, improvisers, instrumentalists, and human beings.”

FLOW includes Azmeh’s Clarinet Concerto, whose premiere in 2019 I reviewed, along with The Canteen, Little Red Riding Hood, And We Are All Optimistic, Daraa, Jisreen, Rituals, and Love on 139th Street in D.

“While I use seemingly contrasting music vocabularies I try to stay honest, real and true to myself and to the ideas I am trying to convey,” says Azmeh. “I believe that art is humanity’s most important product. I also think that people who experience art on a deep level, whether they are artists or art lovers, have a more profound understanding of themselves, their surroundings, other cultures, and the human condition at large; which in turn can translate into more understanding and compassionate societies.”

Filed under: Kinan Azmeh, recommended listening

Lucerne Festival Forward: Inaugural Edition

This weekend, Lucerne Festival will launch the first edition of its Forward Festival devoted to contemporary music. Members of the international Lucerne Festival Academy network have spearheaded this new fall initiative, which has been curated by a team of 18 members. The organizing theme is “networks” and the process of forging connections and achieving closer communication with the audience.

The opening event pays tribute to the late Louis Andriessen Friday evening, 19 November, at 10:00 pm CET, with a raucous performance of Workers Union (video intro here).

Winnie Huang will create 10-minute performances for just one guest at a time throughout the festival and Annea Lockwood’s Water and Memory and Michael Pisaro’s ricefall will similarly engage listeners. In, ricefall, for example, the participants let grains of rice trickle like rain onto various objects and surfaces, enabling an immersive and meditative sound experience. Olga Neuwirth was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s science fiction story “The Long Rain” to create her work of spatial music Construction in space: The sound is in motion, with the audience located right in the middle. Pauline Oliveros’ Out of the Dark, performed in complete darkness, is also conceived as spatial music and, like Lockwood, aims at “deep listening”: the listeners immerse themselves in the time-space continuum of the sound and become part of it.

A new piece by the Swiss percussionist and composer Jessie Cox will also be premiered — one of six works commissioned by the curatorial team to explore and exploit the architecture and acoustics unique to the KKL Concert Hall. “Networks” are additionally at the center of the various models of musical self-organization which Luis Fernando Amaya’s Tinta Roja, Tinta Negra, José-Luis Hurtado’s Retour, and George Lewis’s Artificial Life 2007 explore in open scores that work with improvisational elements. 

Complete series of video introductions

“Deep Listening” series

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, Lucerne Festival Academy, new music

Some New Recommendations for November

Kate Soper, The Fragments of Parmenides

–From Kate Soper, the final revision of her metaphysical cabaret piece The Fragments of Parmenides (score is available here, audio here). Plus, Soper’s “telepathy installation manual” ClearVoice is out now in the latest issue of McSweeney’s Quarterly.  Order here (use the code “audioodyssey” for a 10% discount). 

–Meredith Monk’s latest evening-length work, Indra’s Net, inspired by the ancient Buddhist/Hindu legend of the same name, premieres in a concert version at Mills College on 12 and 13 November to both limited in-person audiences and online via livestream.

-world premiere recording of Yotam Haber’s Estro Poetico-armonico III, one of the winners of the 2020 Azrieli Music Prize: continues a long exploration into the music of Rome’s Jewish community, as discovered through the archival recordings of ethnomusicologist Leo Levi. The recording also includes Yitzhak Yedid‘s Kadosh Kadosh and Cursed, Keiko Devaux’s Arras and Dissidence by Pierre Mercure (arr. by Jonathan Monro); liner notes here.

FLOW, new studio album from the amazing clarinetist/composer Kinan Azmeh: after his award-winning album Uneven Sky with the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Azmeh returns with the NDR Bigband led by conductor/arranger Wolf Kerschek. “I was the Damascene in New York and the New Yorker in Damascus,” observes Azmeh. “I am now more interested in being the New Yorker in New York and the Damascene in Damascus…Both cities with all their contrasting qualities are intellectually stimulating to me. Places, people, nature, tragedies, and celebrations, all of these elements have found their way into the music I create. Being in a constant state of FLOW is now my new zone of comfort.”

–link to Abraham’s Land steaming site — an original musical by playwright Lauren Goldman Marshall and Pulitzer-nominated composer, Roger Ames, with additional music by David Nafissian and Paul Linnes, premiered to widespread acclaim at Kirkland Performance Center, Kirkland, WA, 15-18 July 2021

Filed under: music news

Thomas Dausgaard Is Back

Even with the audience at Benaroya Hall well below capacity, the atmosphere on Thursday night was electric for the long-awaited return of music director Thomas Dausgaard to the Seattle Symphony podium. The menu was meat and potatoes — a Beethoven appetizer (Overture to Egmont) and Brahms’s First, both given high-energy, taut, muscular accounts. Curiously, the Brahms even turned out to contain some Beethovenian echoes beyond the usual ones.

In between came a virtuoso showcase in the form of Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto in G minor. The Italian pianist Alessio Bax was the sparkling soloist, balancing the piece’s flamboyant, impish, and lyrically touching dimensions with dazzling articulation and style.

I’ll be reviewing this and nest week’s concerts in a forthcoming piece discussing Dausgaard’s reunion with the SSO musicians. In the meantime, tonight’s repeat of the program is recommended. The sheer joy and commitment they radiate in making music together again are irresistible.

Filed under: Brahms, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Gabriel Kahane Returns to the Stage

Gabriel Kahane (photo Josh Goleman)

My review of Gabriel Kahane’s return to live performance at the University of Washington’s Meany Center with a preview of the new crop of songs from his internet hiatus:

SEATTLE — In November 2019,Gabriel Kahane embarked on a yearlong hiatus from the internet. He disengaged himself completely from social media and cut off the cell phone umbilical cord. But several months into this experiment, he was forced into further isolation by the pandemic. His appearance Nov. 6 at Meany Center, the University of Washington’s main performance venue, marked one of Kahane’s first occasions enjoying live contact with the public since lockdowns began. The singer-songwriter-pianist is one of four Meany Center Creative Research Fellows this season at the UW.

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Filed under: Classical Voice North America, Gabriel Kahane, review

Ludovic Morlot to Barcelona Symphony

Nostalgic clip from October 2009, when Ludovic Morlot was rehearsing with the Seattle Symphony

Congratulations to Ludovic Morlot, Conductor Emeritus of Seattle Symphony, who has just been named music director of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. His tenure starts September 2022 for an initial four seasons. He succeeds Kazushi Ono.

From the press release:

Morlot will conduct a minimum of eleven weeks a year. Ambitious plans together will include an increased digital presence, CD recordings, international residencies, talent development and youth programs, and a commitment to expand the permanent symphony orchestra size. His appointment is the culmination of a three-year search process, and follows conducting weeks with the orchestra in December 2020 and then again last month.  

Robert Brufau, the Director of L’Auditori, stated that ‘with Ludovic Morlot at the helm, the OBC reaches an international level to defend the role that symphonic music has to play in the 21st century. Morlot has proven his capacity to promote the artistic growth of large groups that, thanks to his leadership, have achieved great success. Modernity and rigour are part of his DNA as an artist, and this is evident in everything he does, from management to the stage with full awareness of the challenges of modern society’. 

Morlot remains Associate Artist of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, and Conductor Emeritus of the Seattle Symphony – an honorary title bestowed on him for the extraordinary achievements of his eight years as the orchestra’s Music Director. 

The public of Catalonia will next be able to enjoy Ludovic Morlot’s artistry in the week of 17 January at L’Auditori, conducting the Barcelona Symphony in works by Bach, Betsy Jolas, Schumann, Carter, and Mahler, with the pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard as guest soloist.

Filed under: Ludovic Morlot, music news

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