MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Reena Esmail on PBS Tonight

Tonight, on the miniseries Great Performances: Now Hear This, Scott Yoo will profile the life and work of Reena Esmail as well as the Brazilian guitarist Sérgio Assad.

Filed under: music news

Danish Quartet: Doppelgänger II

Friday night brings the second installment in the Danish Quartet’s ongoing Doppelgänger Project at Cal Performances, with the world premiere of Finnish composer Lotta Wennaköski’s Pige, her response to Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet. Here’s the introduction I wrote to this program (click on tab “about the performance”).

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Filed under: Cal Performances, Danish String Quartet, Schubert

Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra This Summer

News from the Metropolitan Opera and Polish National Opera:

The Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera will gather leading Ukrainian musicians into the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra for a European and American tour July 28–August 20, including stops in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, before culminating with concerts in New York and Washington, DC. The tour has been assembled with the cooperation of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Ministry of Culture.

The orchestra will include recent refugees, Ukrainian members of European orchestras, and some of the top musicians of Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and elsewhere in Ukraine. The Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine is supporting the project by addressing the organizational issues of allowing male musicians to put down weapons and take up their instruments in a remarkable demonstration of the power of art over adversity.

Money raised from the tour will go to support Ukrainian artists. Donations can be made to the Ministry of Culture at https://donate.arts.gov.ua/en

Under the leadership of Canadian-Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, the orchestra will perform a program that includes Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s Seventh Symphony; Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Ukrainian virtuoso Anna Fedorova; and either Brahms’s Fourth Symphony or Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony.

Leading Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, who is singing the title role of Turandot at the Met this spring, will also perform Leonore’s great aria “Abscheulicher!” from Beethoven’s Fidelio, a paean to humanity and peace in the face of violence and cruelty.

The orchestra’s musicians will gather in Warsaw on July 18 for an intensive rehearsal period led by Maestro Wilson to forge the ensemble, followed by the opening concert in the Polish capital at the Teatr Wielki–Polish National Opera on July 28. The residency and opening performance are being paid for by generous funding from the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, under the leadership of Minister Piotr Glinski. The tour will proceed with stops at the BBC Proms, on July 31, for a televised performance; Munich on August 1; the Chorégies d’Orange Festival in France on August 2; the Berlin Konzerthaus on August 4; the Edinburgh International Festival on August 6; Snape Maltings in England on August 8; the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Festival on August 11; and the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie on August 13. The orchestra will travel to New York on August 16, with concerts at Lincoln Center on August 18 and 19, followed by the final destination, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, on August 20.

The musicians are drawn from the Kyiv National Opera, National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra, and Kharkiv Opera, among other Ukrainian ensembles. Outside of Ukraine, players come from ensembles including the Tonkunstler Orchestra of Vienna, the Belgian National Orchestra, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, music news

Byron Schenkman & Friends: Schumann Fairy Tales & Fantasies

Tonight at 7pm, Byron Schenkman is joined by clarinetist Thomas Carroll and violist Jason Fisher in a program celebrating the Romantic imagination. Here’s the menu:

R. Schumann:

Fairy Tales, op. 132,  for clarinet, viola, and piano

Marie Elisabeth von Sachsen-Meiningen:

Romance for clarinet and piano

Luisa Adolpha Le Beau:

Three Pieces, op. 26, for viola and piano

Max Bruch:

Romanian Melody, op. 83, no. 5, for clarinet, viola, and piano

R. Schumann:

Robert Schumann: Dreams, op. 15, no. 7, for piano 

R. Schumann:

Fantasy Pieces, op. 73, for clarinet and piano

Max Bruch:

Night Piece, op. 83, no. 6, for clarinet, viola, and piano

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, music news, Schumann

Roderick Cox Triumphs with the Seattle Symphony

Roderick Cox conducting the Seattle Symphony Orchestra; photo (c)James Holt

I left last night’s performance convinced that Roderick Cox is a major talent destined for something great. Winner of the 2018 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, Cox had caught my interest last year leading a Barber in San Francisco Opera’s return to live performance. Those were unusual circumstances dictated by social-distancing rules (with a parking lot as the auditorium, the music transmitted to our car radios), so it was splendid to get to experience this young conductor in the limelight, with a full orchestra, unhampered by any pandemic restrictions more cumbersome than a mask. [UPDATE: Check out the film Conducting Life, an intimate portrait of Roderick Cox and his path toward his vocation.]

Cox chose a challenging program that revealed an impressive gift for communicating his musical vision. The first half was given to William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony of 1934–a landmark of early 20th-century American symphonic writing has been shamefully, disgracefully neglected while so many tireless mediocrities continue to clutter the repertoire.

This performance had the quality of a double epiphany, confirming what an excellent piece of music we’ve allowed ourselves to be missing out on and at the same time shedding light on the journey Dawson’s symphony traces–outwardly, the harrowing passage from Africa to the New World, but also an implicitly personal journey. He clarified the originality of Dawson’s response to the challenge Dvořák had issued to cultivate an authentically American voice. For Dawson, that meant writing a symphony that, as the composer put it, “is unmistakably not the work of a white man.”

Negro Folk Symphony is a marvel of the imaginative, indeed, symphonic, transformation of simple, ready-made folk material–Dawson draws on three spirituals in particular–into a complex, multi-faceted structure. Cox led a dramatically compelling account that highlighted Dawson’s elaborate use of rhythmic mottos as a unifying device, while also lavishing attention on the orchestral details that give this score such resonance. His spacing of the implacably tragic minor chords ending the “Hope in the Night Section” was especially memorable. This was the SSO’s first performance of the Dawson, and part of the excitement came from the sense of the players sharing in these discoveries along the way, clearly inspired by Cox’s guidance.

Concertmaster Noah Geller gave a deeply felt and polished interpretation of the 1904 Violin Concerto in A minor by Alexander Glazunov–who, like Dawson, straddled a period of drastic change in musical values and pressures. Basking in his warmly expressive lower register in the opening passage, the violinist kept the audience at an attentive hush in Glazunov’s extended cadenza, counterbalancing the piece’s gentler lyricism with its giddy high spirits and vivaciously articulated virtuosity.

Cox proved fearless in Belá Bartók’s Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, a piece that doesn’t tolerate weak-willed, insecure conducting. He drew an electrifying performance from the outset, never letting go of the ominous, hair-raising tension and danger that animate this early Bartók score. The music echoes, though in a very original way, impulses from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Strauss’s dancing Salome, also hinting at the spirit of film noir to come. Cox emphasized its brutal violence but also knew how to bring out the delicacy and spookily muted colors of Bartók’s orchestration, loosening the reins to give the platform to Benjamin Lulich for his arresting clarinet solos.

The glowing rapport between the players and Cox left me hoping to see much more of this conductor on the Benaroya stage. Thursday’s audience, though relatively sparse, was enthusiastic and grateful. What a pity it would be to miss this excellent program, which repeats Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm.

Review (c) 2022 Thomas May

Filed under: Bartók, conductors, review, Seattle Symphony

David Fulton on Acquiring — and Dispersing — His Storied Collection

I had a chance recently to spend some time with David Fulton and wrote about his new book for Strings magazine:

Right after Thanksgiving in 1981, David Fulton, to his astonishment, took possession of a Pietro Guarneri violin made in Mantua in 1698. This “little Petrus” turned out to be the unexpected beginning of a matchless collection acquired over the next two decades: 28 historic Cremonese instruments, which Fulton gathered into an assembly arguably unrivaled among contemporary private collectors around the world…

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Filed under: Strings

RIP Radu Lupu (1945-2022)

A tragic day. There’s nothing to say, to add, to the music. RIP, Maestro.

Filed under: music news, pianists

RIP Sir Harrison Birtwistle (1934-2022)

Birtwistle on Birtwistle

The fiercely independent and original English composer Harrison Birtwistle has died at the age of 87, his publisher Boosey & Hawkes reported today. He died at his home in Mere, UK.

Jonathan Cross wrote an assessment for Boosey: “He knew what he wanted, and he simply did what he did. Pan, embodied in Panic’s solo saxophone, was – like Orpheus, like the Green Knight, like the Minotaur – just another of those mythical creatures with which Birtwistle became obsessed, and through which he was able to articulate deep ideas about time and identity, longing and loss. This is the essence of the music of Harrison Birtwistle, and the source of its power. This will be its enduring legacy. And it is to this music we shall return time and again to continue to mine its immense riches.”

Observes David Beard: “Birtwistle’s music reflects an intensely personal vision of the world in which degrees of musical complexity may be related to our experience of the world by metaphors of journeying, ritual, or multiple perspectives of the same object. Although influenced to varying degrees by Stravinsky, Messiaen, Boulez and Cage, his distinctive characteristics include wind- and percussion-led antiphony, extended melodies free-flowing over a mechanical ground, and shifting pulses that question our ability to count clock time. Textures may become densely layered, but from such soundscapes individual voices speak with fanfare- or dance-like gestures. Birtwistle’s music, in other words, is always firmly grounded in the body. This should come as no surprise given his early experience of musical theatre ….”

A tweet from younger peer Thomas Adès observes: “Harrison Birtwistle once said of Messiaen ‘when he dies the whole house of cards will fall down’. I feel a bit like it has fallen today.”

UPDATE: And Monday 18 April 2022 continues to bring tragic news in the classical music world: also announced today were the deaths of two pianists, the legendary Romanian Radu Lupu and his younger American colleague Nicholas Angelich. This truly is the end of an era.

Filed under: Harrison Birtwistle, music news

Joel Sachs’s Farewell Concert

It’s hard to process the reality that Joel Sachs has decided to retire as of June 30 after 52 years of teaching and music making at Juilliard; he will hold the status of professor emeritus. Generations of musicians and musical thinkers have been mentored by Sachs, who as a conductor, pianist, and curator has also made invaluable contributions to new music. I’ve been immensely privileged over the years to benefit from his incredible wisdom while editing the programs he single-handedly writes for Juilliard’s always-stimulating Focus festival at the beginning of the year. Zachary Woolfe wrote about Sachs and the 2022 edition of Focus in The New York Times here.

Sachs tonight conducts the New Juilliard Ensemble, which he founded and has led for 29 seasons, in their final concert of the season and his own farewell concert (at 7.30 pm ET).

The program, which will be live-streamed, is characteristically intriguing and full of discoveries:

Yangfan XU Fantastic Creatures of the Mountains and Seas
     Lennox Thuy Duong, Narrator
Paul FREHNER Sometimes the Devil Plays Fate
     
Mary Beth Nelson, Mezzo-Soprano
Diana SYRSE The Invention of Sex
     
Diana Syrse, Soprano
Paul DESENNE Sinfonía Burocràtica ed’Amazzònica

A digital program can be found accesible digital program.

Writes Sachs in his farewell announcement: “Of course, I have mixed feelings–making music with our great young performers is always a huge pleasure. But having arrived at age 82 in excellent health, it struck me as time to move on to other projects–recording, performing as a pianist, and writing–and to indulge in luxuries that come with an open schedule, such as more traveling and more time with my children and grandchildren.”

I’m looking forward to the next project Joel Sachs will be sharing with us. In the meantime, warmest congratulations!

Filed under: Joel Sachs, Juilliard, music news, new music

St. Matthew Passion from Raphaël Pichon and Pygmalion

I reviewed the new Raphaël Pichon/Pygmalion recording of the St. Matthew Passion for Early Music America:

Perhaps the best way to adequately describe the extremely intense, 3-D quality of motion that Raphäel Pichon and the Pygmalion ensemble achieve in the St. Matthew Passion’s opening chorus is by way of comparison with another art: say, Stendhal’s description of the young Fabrizio caught up in the fog of Napoleonic battle in The Charterhouse of Parma (which Balzac praised as a marvel that “often contains a whole book in a single page”)….

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Filed under: Bach, CD review, Early Music America

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