MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

John Adams Returns to Seattle

Composer and conductor John Adams returns to Seattle Jan. 6 and 8, his fourth round with Seattle Symphony since making his podium debut here in 2004.  (Musacchio-Ianniello-Pasqualini)
Composer and conductor John Adams returns to Seattle Jan. 6 and 8, his fourth round with Seattle Symphony since making his podium debut here in 2004. (Musacchio-Ianniello-Pasqualini)

Here’s my latest Seattle Times story, about John Adams as composer and conductor:

Seattle Symphony audiences have another reason to be proud of their band…


Filed under: John Adams, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Times

Seattle Pro Musica: love came down

Immense gratitude to Karen P. Thomas and Seattle Pro Musica for an inspired performance last night at Seattle First Baptist Church. These holiday concerts mark their return to live singing for the first time in about two years.

The beautifully curated program featured a thoughtful menu of new choral pieces in a wide range of styles, interspersed with gems by Josquin des Prez in honor of the 500th anniversary of his death. Even singing with special masks, the chorus — performing in its various subgroups and in the larger, full-strength ensemble — filled the space with Seattle Pro Musica’s signature clarity, fullness of color, and meaningful expression.

Personal highlights of this program: Welsh composer Paul Mealor’s moving setting of the e.e. cummings poem i carry your heart, which carried the audience away with its sublime, vulnerable honesty and directness; Afro-Brazilian composer José Mauricio Nunes Garcia’s elegantly voiced setting of Domine Jesu; and First Nations composer Andrew Balfour’s Qilak, an a cappella ode to nature that uses harmony and the resources of the singing voice with great imagination to depict the awe-filling vastness of the Northern landscape.

The program contains many other epiphanies. Seattle Pro Musica will perform a live broadcast this evening at 7.30pm PST (available online thereafter until 31 December). We all need such uplifting experiences more than ever.

love came down

by Christina Rosetti

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Stars and angels gave the sign.
Alleluia. Gloria in excelsis Deo.*

Worship we the Godhead,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Alleluia. Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and love to all,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

*Hallelujah. Glory to God in the highest.

Filed under: choral music, recommended listening, Seattle Pro Musica

John Harbison Reflects on His Retirement

The eminent American composer John Harbison, who turns 83 on 20 December, is retiring from his life-long career on the faculty at MIT. The latest edition of his newsletter offers these reflections:

Arriving reluctantly but alertly at my last day of teaching at MIT, I remember two pieces of advice from the first week, in 1969. From a composer-friend, about the large Introduction to Music lecture: “Don’t be afraid to say what you love.” And from our Director of Music, Klaus Liepmann, as he escorted me down the endless corridor: “We teach our courses as if they are equal in the student’s learning experience to physics. We have poor facilities, we have  large ambition, and a new building is on the way.”

Well, in the last instance he was premature, but his vision for what was then a small enterprise was relentlessly bold and demanding.   I had come from my first teaching experience in a quite different environment, Reed College, in Portland Oregon, 1968, on the west coast, many student occupations of the administration building, intense teach-ins and demonstrations, no grades given, radically informal behavior and attire, very inquisitive students likely to go on break for a few years. 

I returned to the Boston area to begin two jobs, teaching at MIT (new concepts: drop dates, midterms, grades) and conducting the Cantata Singers (in my previous Boston time I had conducted frequently, but only as a guest—this was a full-time Music Directorship). Like many composers, it took a while to find a way to make beginning courses in Harmony and Counterpoint express the daily happiness I found working with pitches and rhythms.  

But within a year or so I got a fortunate break when our music historian Robert Freeman left to become Director of the Eastman School.  Suddenly we needed coverage in Schütz, Schein, and Bach, and my performance and teaching worlds linked up.  In recent years I have heard from long-ago students thanking me for the “gift” of Schütz, my abiding passion of those years. 

There have been, in a half century, so many episodes that remain very fresh, it is hard to choose. But the invitation from Marcus Thompson to join the coaching force was the major crossing point.  I owe much to the students with whom I collaborated as we studied and performed with in two complete performances of Bach’s Musical Offering.  I will never forget the Pierrot Lunaire, staged, in an English translation by the staff-member singer, with one of the performers playing viola for the first time!  Or the two mountings of the Domenico Scarlatti Stabat Mater for ten solo singers and continuo group of four, an un-conducted half hour with about fifteen tricky tempo changes.

For at least fifteen years, Jean Rife and I coached—alternately and sometimes together—a self-recruiting group of madrigal singers (probably in that period the only such group in Boston). Finding their own replacements, and generating consistent initiative and enthusiasm, this cohort performed, over a couple of years, the entire Schütz Italian madrigals, the complete sixth book of Monteverdi madrigals, an entire Gesualdo concert (Jean took on that one), and Byrd’s giant motet Infelix Ego, performed in services both at MIT and at Emmanuel Church.  (This group of singers was characteristically half ROTC students, who shipped out to dangerous places after leaving MIT, part of their preparation some of music’s most beautiful polyphony!) 

My last phase at MIT was a change of scene I owe to Fred Harris, with whom many of us have experienced all kinds of fresh excursions. Fred invited me over to Jazz, where I have spent the last decade. It was fun, and challenging, to write for the first edition of Vocal Jazz Ensemble twenty-some arrangements of standard American Songs, and then later to switch to the Emerson Jazz Players, doing their own composing, their personnel a concentration of some of our most gifted musicians.

We are all in contact with our colleagues at other institutions, and I am sure many of us have noticed that it is not always easy for a group of artists to work and organize together. There are many special advantages to MIT.  We are not expected to perfectly resemble other schools.  We are in a school where making (temporarily?) useless things is part of a respected process.  We are here as artists or artist-scholars, with a growing understanding that our achievements might not “look like” scientific or engineering breakthroughs.  And we have achieved among ourselves a dialogue that along with its fragile moments maintains some resilience and imagination.  

Like my fellow retirees I will miss colleagues, students, the buildings, but I still hope some day to stagger into the New Building to witness, between fresh walls, the typical vigor of MIT Music and Theatre.
                            — JH

Filed under: John Harbison, music news

Mozart’s Messiah

Lee Mills with Seattle Symphony

I’m looking forward to this program with Seattle Symphony — and to the next chance to hear associate conductor Lee Mills in action, having been deeply impressed by his last-minute stand-in performance for an incredibly challenging program in November, which featured a world premiere by Hannah Lash and a rarity from Amy Beach.

Regarding Mozart’s take on Handel, Lindsay Kemp offers a helpful summary here of the profound effect that Baron van Swieten’s collection of Baroque music had on the composer. Van Swieten held private concerts in Vienna to explore choral music from the past and “invited Mozart to prepare new performing editions of a group of Handel oratorios…Doubtless Mozart was glad of the money, but, far from being workaday, the job he carried out on the scores is careful and considered, clearly born out of respect for Handel’s skill and creative personality.”

Kemp writes: “His main objective was to recast Handel’s music — whose original Baroque orchestral line-up of strings, oboes and bassoon and occasional brass and timpani would have seemed a little thin to Classical ears — for an up-to-date ensemble which added flutes, clarinets and horns. He thus brings a warm Viennese glow to the music, but in places Mozart also added his own gloss to events, as for instance in Messiah when he adds a contrapuntal shadow to the stark unison accompaniment of ‘The people that walked in darkness’…..”

A performance of Mozart’s complete version:

Filed under: Handel, Mozart, Seattle Symphony

Christina Scheppelmann Makes the List

Congratulations to Seattle Opera’s Christina Scheppelmann for being ranked among Musical America’s Top 30 Professionals of the Year:

“In January 2020, when Seattle Opera announced its next season, it was the first to be programmed by the company’s new general director, Christina Scheppelmann. She had arrived eight months earlier as one of only a few women to lead a major opera company, but after the pandemic lockdown set in, the season might have been lost entirely if not for her determination. ‘I don’t like to stick my head in the sand,’ said Scheppelmann, previously artistic director of Barcelona’s Fundació del Gran Teatre del Liceu. ‘Doing nothing and waiting out the pandemic was not an option. I wanted to deliver the season we promised, and I saw an opportunity to get it done within public health restrictions we needed to follow.'”

Filed under: music news, Musical America, Seattle Opera

Some Concert Recommendations

Here are two high-quality programs coming up in the Seattle area, which I highly recommend:

Seattle Pro Musica is returning to live performance at last, and they’re doing so with a characteristically fascinating and thoughtful program curated by SPM artistic director and conductor Karen P. Thomas called love came down. The choices feature mostly new music by BIPOC composers from the US and Canada, as well as works by Josquin des Prez to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his death.

love came down takes place at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm on December 11 at the Chapel at Bastyr University, and at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm on December 18 at Seattle First Baptist
Tickets available at  or by at 206-781-2766.  
The performance will also be available by streaming on December 19.

Complete list of the repertoire with comments from SPM below.*

Pacific MusicWorks presents Fiesta de Navidad, a diverse program of festive holiday music from the Missions and Cathedrals of Latin America. Artistic leaders Stephen Stubbs, Tekla Cunningham, Henry Lebedinsky, and Maxine Eilander will be joined by vocalists Danielle Reutter-Harrah, Tess Altiveros, Laura Pudwell, and Pablo Bustos as well as Antonio Gomez on percussion and and Alexandra Opsahl on cornetto/recorder. December 11 at 7.30pm at Benaroya Hall; December 12 at 2pm at Epiphany Church in Seattle. Starting December 22, you can also purchase access to virtual on demand here. Mask and proof of vaccination required.

Program for love came down with Seattle Pro Musica:

Qilak by Andrew Balfour (Canada, b. 1967)
First Nations composer Andrew Balfour expresses his
wonder at the vast expanse of sky and the shimmering of
sun on snow as seen during a visit to Baffin Island in
northern Canada. Sung in Iniktitut and English.

Love came down at Christmas by Eleanor Daley (Canada, b. 1955)
This beautiful setting for tenors and basses of the beloved
poem by Christina Rosetti provides the title for our concert.
Sung in English.

Domine Jesu by José Mauricio Nunes Garcia (Brazil, 1767–1830)
This Afro-Brazilian composer wrote the first Brazilian opera,
as well as hundreds of choral and orchestral works.
Sung in Latin.

I carry your heart by Paul Mealor (Wales, b. 1975)
One of the most-performed of living composers today, Paul
Mealor explores the extremes of vocal range in this tender
setting of a poem by E. E. Cummings. Sung in English.

O magnum mysterium by Brittney Boykin (US, b. 1989)
A contemporary setting of this traditional Christmas text by
the Atlanta-based composer, conductor, and pianist B.E.
Boykin. Sung in Latin.

Ave verum, Gaude virgo mater Christi, and Ave Maria by Josquin des Prez (France, 1450–1521)
Three exquisite motets by the acclaimed Renaissance
composer who influenced generations of composers after
him. Josquin’s fame led Martin Luther to exclaim: “He is the
master of the notes.” Sung in Latin.

Star has come by Roderick Williams (UK, b. 1965)
An exciting piece that uses swooping choral glissandos
(glides from one pitch to another), written by the celebrated
Welsh-Jamaican composer and baritone. Sung in English.

When the earth stands still by Don Macdonald (Canada, b. 1966)
“Come listen in the silence of the moment before rain comes
down. There’s a deep sigh in the quiet of the forest and the
tall tree’s crown. Now hold me. Will you take the time to
hold me and embrace the chill?” Sung in English.

Epiphany Carol by Alexander L’Estrange (UK, b. 1974)
The lyrics by Joanna Forbes L’Estrange implore us to protect
the earth by giving not gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but “a
present for the future.” Sung in English.

Ave Maria by Nathaniel Dett (US, 1882-1943)
A richly chromatic setting by the famed Canadian-American
Black composer, pianist, conductor, poet, and music
professor. Sung in Latin.

In silent night by Mitchell Southall (US, b. 1922)
A gentle, reflective piece by this little-known AfricanAmerican composer, who was born in the South and
later migrated to Canada. Sung in English.

Filed under: choral music, Pacific MusicWorks, Seattle Pro Musica

Shawna Lucey to Head Opera San José

Shawna Lucey; Photo Credit: Ken Howard

Shawna Lucey has been named the new General Director and CEO of Opera San José. Already in January 2022 she will take on the position recently vacated by Khori Dastoor, who is beginning her tenure as General Director and CEO of Houston Grand Opera in January as well.

From the OSJ press release:

Said Opera San José Board of Directors Chair Gillian Moran, “After conducting an extensive national search, we could not be more delighted in welcoming Shawna Lucey to launch our next chapter at Opera San José. When we began our search five months ago, we knew we were looking for a charismatic leader whose passion and vision would help us continue to grow and expand upon the incredible work and programs OSJ has to offer. Shawna more than fits the bill — her experience directing productions at America’s leading opera houses, her passion for infusing new resonance into classics, and her crystalline view of vibrant contemporary works will be enormous assets, propelling our company into a thrilling future.”

Lucey is familiar to Bay Area audiences primarily for her work with San Francisco Opera. Her legacy production of Tosca was chosen to launch the company’s 99th season in August of 2021.Lucey made her directorial debut with Opera San José in 2018 with La traviata, brilliantly staged with skill and imagination, and offering a compelling contemporary viewpoint. Her directorial work has been seen across the US, from The Metropolitan Opera to Dallas Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Santa Fe Opera, and many others. She also boasts an international reputation, staging works in Spain, Russia, and Germany, at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the Bolshoi Theater, and Schauspiel Hannover, among many others, and has assisted esteemed directors, including Stephen Lawless, Lee Blakeley, John Caird, Peter Schumann, and Francesca Zambello.

In addition to opera, Lucey steps outside the canon into theatre and musicals, staging works such as Gilbert & Sullivan’s rollicking The Pirates of Penzance, which BroadwayWorld lauded for its “contemporary flair, dousing the classic with a touch of modern Monty Python alongside Carol Burnett Show moments. A true contemporary comic delight faithful to the original Gilbert and Sullivan intent.” 

Originally from Houston, Texas, Lucey credits much of her directorial influences to Russia, where she lived and studied for five years. She spent years working with the world-famous Bread & Puppet Theatre as both a touring performer and staff member, and then 11 seasons with Santa Fe Opera, working her way from technical apprentice to stage director. She holds BAs in Theater and Italian from the University of Texas at Austin and received her MFA in Directing & Movement from the Boris Shchukin Theatre Institute of the Vakhtangov Theater in Moscow. Most recently residing in New York City, Lucey is currently enrolled in Columbia University’s Master of Science program for Non-Profit Management and has served as an adjunct professor in Speech and Theater at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, encouraging the next generation of artists while teaching courses on acting, design, stage management, and directing.

Lucey’s appointment as the fourth General Director in OSJ’s history will begin midway through the company’s critically acclaimed 38th season and long-awaited return to the California Theatre. She will be overseeing the upcoming productions of Bizet’s Carmen and Bernstein’s West Side Story, as well as the return of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition.

Said Opera San José Music Director and Principal Conductor Joseph Marcheso, who conducted her 2018 production of La traviata, “This is an exciting moment in our company’s history. The creativity and energy that Shawna brings to her work is incredibly inspiring, and I am very much looking forward to collaborating with her in the coming months and years. Her approach of exciting innovation, a healthy respect for tradition, and steadfast commitment to artistic excellence make her absolutely ideal for this post, and I think our audiences will be thrilled to see what she brings to our stage and to our whole community.”  

Opera San José is a flagship arts organization of Silicon Valley. Maintaining a resident company of artists, OSJ presents four mainstage productions annually in San Jose’s beautifully restored, magnificent California Theatre. It also regularly broadcasts fully produced productions from its state-of-the-art Heiman Digital Media Studio. Now in its 38th season, OSJ specializes in role debuts, serving as an artistic incubator for established and emerging artists and administrators, producing world- class operatic performances for diverse audiences throughout the Bay Area and around the globe. More information is available at

Filed under: music news, Opera San José

RIP Alvin Lucier (1931-2021)

Original 1969 recording of I Am Sitting in a Room here.

Filed under: Alvin Lucier, American music, music news

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR