MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Iannis Xenakis at 100

Sunday night from 10pm–midnight PST, celebrate the legacy of Iannis Xenakis on Flotation Device at 91.3 KBCS-FM Bellevue/Seattle/Tacoma. The program, hosted by composer/intermedia artist and polymath Michael Schell, will include selections from Karlrecords’ new remastered edition of Xenakis’s electroacoustic works (w/enhanced bass) by Martin Wurmnest and Rashad Becker.

The Greek-French avant-garde composer was born on 29 May 1922 in Brăila, Romania. In honor of his centenary, fellow composer Roger Reynolds and flutist and arts activist Karen Reynolds have published Xenakis Creates in Architecture and Music: The Reynold Desert House, which explores their collaboration to create a house design integrating music and architecture. The book also includes analyses of three representative chamber works by Xenakis as well as letters, diaries, notes, photographs, sketches, and transcriptions of person-to-person conversations. More here from Roger Reynolds:

A few years ago, we contracted with Routledge publishers to issue a book: Xenakis Creates in Architecture and Music: The Reynolds Desert House. The cumbersome title was a result of negotiation over how to assure the maximum number of potential “key words” that could attract search engines. In the following months and years, we learned a bit about book publishing.

We had worked for years on the notion that the multifarious materials we had gathered over four decades could somehow be shape-shifted into a coherent collection of chapters, they forming a book that would be detailed, accurate, informative, and would also provide an intimate window into Xenakis’s ways and capacities as we had experienced them.

Iannis and Françoise came to UC San Diego at our invitation for a festival in his honor in 1990. While they were in Southern California, we drove them out to the land that we had purchased in the Anza-Borrego Desert — a deeply ravined site on which we dreamed of realizing a design that he had offered to us during a dinner we shared with them in their 9, rue Chaptal apartment in Paris in 1984.

When several representative chapters were drafted, we submitted them to our Routledge editor, who in turn sent them to the required external reviewers. A particularly thoughtful remark by one clinched the deal:

This is a very unique proposal of the highest quality on a topic that is greatly underdeveloped: the links between musical, architectural and literary creativity in Xenakis’s work.

We worked for many months completing eight chapters with a multitude of illustrative images: photos, designs, letters … Now, after innumerable proofings, the book exists, and we hope it will be shared.

Filed under: avant-garde, Iannis Xenakis, music news, Roger Reynolds

Akhnaten Returns to the Met

The Metropolitan Opera has revived its splendid production of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten. Joshua Barone writes: “There were, though, some crucial differences from 2019. Phelim McDermott’s production, now more lived-in, unfolded with elegant inevitability rather than effort; the score was executed with a clarity and drive absent on the often slack album. And while “Akhnaten” may be one of Glass’s tributes to great men who changed the world — through science, politics and faith — Thursday’s performance of it made a persuasive argument for where the real power lies: with the women.”

Here’s my program note:

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, Philip Glass, program notes

Slapback: Music of Donnacha Dennehy, Michael Fiday, David Lang, amnd Caroline Shaw

Friday 20 May at 8pm at the Royal Room: Slapback features Paddy, a virtuosic, nonstop percussion solo by Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy; Boris Kerner, an ethereal duo for amplified cello and tuned flowerpots by Pulitzer-Prize-winning American composer Caroline Shaw; Slapback, a tour-de-force of deconstructed Pete Townshend riffs for electric guitar by American composer Michael Fiday; and a drop-tuned, mildly metal version of American composer David Lang’s Warmth for electric guitar duo. 

Filed under: music news

Madness, Revenge, and New Music: Looking for the Lost Finale of L’Orfeo

Pacific MusicWorks members David Morris on viola da gamba, harpist Maxine Eilander and lutenist Stephen Stubbs, in a performance of ‘Wayward Sisters’

This weekend’s program by Early MusicWorks, titled Wayward Sisters, will include the world premiere of artistic director Stephen Stubbs’s new musical completion of the “lost ending” to Monteverdi’s 1607 opera L’Orfeo. I spoke to Stubbs about the project for Early Music America:

Opera was born of the tantalizing premise that what had been lost to history could be regenerated through an act of creative imagination. So it seems peculiarly fitting that one of the foundational works of the art should inspire a similar effort…


Filed under: Early Music America, Monteverdi, Stephen Stubbs

Bryon Schenkman & Friends Premiere Jonathan Woody’s nor shape of today

Another Jonathan Woody composition: Nigra Sum Sed Formosa: A Fantasia on Microaggressions

For their end-of-season program, Byron Schenkman & Friends juxtapose a world premiere by composer and bass-baritone Jonathan Woody with 19th-century music by Maria Szymanowsk, Francisca Gonzaga, Clara Schumann, Joseph Joachim, and Johannes Brahms. The concert takes place Sunday, May 22, 2022, at Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, at Third and Union in downtown Seattle, beginning at 7:00  P.M.  (Prices range from $48 for Regular Price, $41 for Seniors, and $10 for Youth and Students with ID.

Woody’s nor shape of today, a BS&F commission, sets a text by Raquel Salas Rivera and was written, according to the composer, as “a companion to Johannes Brahms’s Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano, op. 91.” Woody writes: “In our 21st-century existence, many individuals still experience a longing for a place to belong, and I was struck by the similarity between these Romantic sentiments and the experience of trans and non-binary individuals, who face relentless pressure to conform to outdated norms surrounding gender and identity in our supposedly modern world…. I hoped to capture the sense of longing that so many human beings feel to belong, to be loved, and to be safe.”

The program will feature performances by soprano Hailey McAvoy, violist Andrew Gonzalez, and pianists Charles Enlow and Byron Schenkman. 

Complete Program:

Johannes Brahms: 16 Waltzes, op. 39, for piano
Maria Szymanowska: Polonaise in C (c.1820) for piano
Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga: Tango in F Minor “Sospiro” (c.1881) for piano
Jonathan Woody: nor shape of today for mezzo-soprano, viola, and piano
Clara Schumann: Romance in A Minor, op. 21, no. 1 for piano
Clara Schumann: Impromptu in E Major (c.1844) for piano
Joseph Joachim: Hebrew Melody in G Minor, op. 9, no. 1 for viola and piano
Johannes Brahms: Lullaby, op. 49, no. 4, for voice and piano
Johannes Brahms: Two Songs for alto, viola, and piano, op. 91

Tickets available here.

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, commissions, music news

Reena Esmail Returns to Seattle Symphony

The Seattle Symphony will present two free Community Concerts this May. On Friday, May 13, at 8 p.m., Seattle Symphony Composer-in-Residence Reena Esmail returns to Benaroya Hall to host the first Community Concert, titled Ram Tori Maya, which features a Seattle Symphony string quartet sharing the stage with students of Swaranjali School of Music, an institution dedicated to the preservation, learning, and performance of Hindustani classical music. This program will explore pieces arranged or composed by Esmail herself along with a carefully curated selection of popular Indian works.

The second community concert will be on Tuesday, May 17, at 7 p.m., with Associate Conductor Lee Mills conducting music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hannah Kendall, Astor Piazzolla, Johannes Brahms, and Carlos Simon.  2022 Young Artist Henry From will join the orchestra for the last movement from Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Filed under: music news, Seattle Symphony

World Premiere of Tres minutos

Music by Nicolas Benavides

New from the Seattle-Based Music of Remembrance:

On Sunday, May 15 at 5:30 pm, Music of Remembrance returns to Benaroya Hall for its final live concert of the season. The program, titled Tres minutos, features the world premiere of a compelling new opera of that title by composer Nicolas Benavides and librettist Marella Martin Koch.

Commissioned by MOR, Tres minutos explores the intimate human dimensions of an urgent issue for our time. It tells the story of Nila and Diego, a sister and brother who share family bonds, but not citizenship. Allowed a brief supervised reunion at the border that separates them, they wrestle with questions of identity, duty and belonging. The work is a timely reminder that beyond the arguments about immigration policy are actual people with real lives, deep emotions and complicated relationships.

Tres minutos comes at such an important time in our country,” remarks composer Nicolas Benavides, “a time when we have a refugee crisis and we have the choice to make it better or make it worse.” Starring soprano Vanessa Isiguen and baritone José Rubio in a production conceived and directed by Erich Parce and conducted by the composer.

The program includes chamber works by two composers who spoke out through their art in the darkest of times. Hans Krása, murdered in Auschwitz, is perhaps best known for his iconic children’s opera Brundibár that was performed 55 times by casts of young prisoners in the Terezín concentration camp. His Theme with Variations for string quartet was played by inmates in Terezin in a performance that was exploited by the Nazis for their infamous propaganda film “The Führer Gives a City to the Jews.” Géza Frid, in mortal danger as a stateless Jew in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, organized clandestine house concerts and was active in the underground as a forger of coupons and identity cards. Frid’s Podium Suite, featuring violinist Mikhail Shmidt and pianist Jessica Choe, is an explosion of fireworks — dramatic, virtuosic and rhythmically intense.

Performing as MOR instrumental ensemble are musicians from the Seattle Symphony Orchestra: clarinetist Laura DeLuca, violinists Mikhail Shmidt and Natasha Bazhanov, violist Susan Gulkis Assadi, cellist Walter Gray, double bassist Jonathan Green, and pianist Jessica Choe.

tickets available here


Theme with Variations (1936)          Hans Krása
Mikhail Shmidt, violin     Natasha Bazhanov, violin
Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola     Walter Gray, cello

Podium Suite, Op. 3 (1928)          Géza Frid
Mikhail Shmidt, violin
Jessica Choe, piano


Tres minutos
Music by Nicolas Lell Benavides
Libretto by Marella Martin Koch

More on the creative team:

Nicolas Lell Benavides’ music has been praised for finding “…a way to sketch complete characters in swift sure lines…” (Anne Midgette, Washington Post) and cooking up a “jaunty score [with] touches of cabaret, musical theater and Latin dance.” (Tim Smith, OPERA NEWS). He has worked with groups such as the Washington National Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival, New Opera West, West Edge Opera, Nashville Opera, Shreveport Opera, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Friction Quartet, Khemia Ensemble, and Nomad Session. He was a fellow at the Eighth Blackbird Creative Lab and the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music. Nicolas was the first ever Young Artist Composer in Residence at The Glimmerglass Festival and has been a fellow at the Del Mar International Composers Symposium. He premiered a new opera for Washington National Opera called Pepito with librettist Marella Martin Koch. Nicolas and Marella were selected as the recipient of West Edge Opera’s Aperture commission to develop an evening length opera about civil rights icon Dolores Huerta. He is also developing an opera with librettist Laura Barati as part of MassOpera’s New Opera Workshop. Other notable projects include a new dance piece called On Trac|< for The Glimmerglass Festival in collaboration with dancer Amanda Castro, Little Cloud for Khemia Ensemble, a new string quartet for Fry Street Quartet, and a new orchestra work for Gabriela Lena Frank’s Composing Earth initiative with support from New Music USA. Nicolas has studied at Santa Clara University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music.

Marella Martin Koch is a librettist and director originally from Los Angeles. In addition to Tres minutos, she wrote the 20-minute opera Pepito with composer Nicolas Lell Benavides for Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative. Since its Kennedy Center premiere, Pepito has been performed across the country, recorded as a cast album “full of nuance and emotional pull” (Chris Ruel, Operawire), and released by New Opera West as an “entrancing” animated short film (Claudia Kawczynska, The Bark). Her and Nicolas’ upcoming full-length opera Dolores won the inaugural West Edge Opera Aperture Commission. Other notable credits as librettist include Ten Minutes in the Life or Death of… (music by Tyler J. Rubin), lauded as “quizzical and wonderstruck” (Steven Winn, SF Classical Voice) at West Edge Opera’s Snapshot 2021; and Elinor & Marianne (music by Aferdian), an original concept album inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility produced by The Rally Cat with support from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, City Council, and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Currently based in NYC, she teaches theatre and writing to middle school, high school, undergraduate, and graduate students and is developing a full-length play called Friend Animals with Midnight Oil Collective. With over a decade of experience in non-profit arts administration and production, she founded and leads the multidisciplinary opera/theatre company The Rally Cat. 

MFA, NYU/Tisch. BA, UC Berkeley.

Filed under: music news, Music of Remembrance

A New Figaro at Seattle Opera

Ryan McKinny (Figaro) and Soraya Mafi (Susanna)

I reviewed the Figaro production that just opened at Seattle Opera for Bachtrack:

There’s a moment in Seattle Opera’s end-of-season production, as the threads are being steadily pulled ever tighter in the final act, when Figaro reaches out from his hiding place behind a tree, trying to make contact with Susanna…


Filed under: Mozart, review, Seattle Opera

BBC Proms Announces 2022 Program

From guest contributor Tom Luce:

The published program for this year’s British Broadcasting Corporation Proms has 73 concerts taking place over the 53 days from 15 July to 6 September, with at least 36 orchestras performing.  All of the concerts will be broadcast on the BBC radio and will be available via BBC Sounds as well, which is accessible across the world. Details are available here.

This year’s BBC Proms program returns fully to its pre-pandemic scale and cultural and humanitarian outreach. Amongst the most monumental classical works are J S Bach’s B minor Mass, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and Beethoven piano sonatas played by Sir András Schiff. Appropriately to the morbid pandemic circumstances globally, and especially now to the catastrophic war situation, the program opens with Verdi’s Requiem and also includes Brahms’s German Requiem.

International orchestras are now again included — from Philadelphia, Australia, Berlin, Vienna, Cologne, Norway and Finland. Another of special relevance is the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, which will also be performing in the USA. Also notable is the performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony by the Europe-based Chineke! Orchestra of non-European ethnic players with their new choral association. (Chineke! has on some occasions included a Seattle Symphony player.)

As well as the extensive symphonic and choral repertoire, several operas are to be given concert performances, including Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Puccini’s Il Tabarrro, and Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers. Many concerts include new music by many modern or current composers: for example, Brett Dean, Betsy Jolas, Florence Price, Valentin Silvestrov, and Thomas Adès.  On weekend mornings and afternoons, there are informal children and family concerts.

Two concerts represent particular celebrations: notably, an evening with historic British Coronation music from Handel onwards to reflect the widespread celebration of H M Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee. Another marks the centenary of the BBC itself.

Most concerts take place in the Royal Albert Hall, which can accommodate up to 6,000 audience members. The broadcasts are known to have huge followers nationally and internationally. The scale, scope, and diversity of the overall program, its composers, and performers must also be unique both historically and internationally. — Tom Luce

Filed under: BBC Proms

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