MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

The New York Phil Pays Heartfelt Tribute to Stephen Sondheim at Bravo! Vail

Emmett O’Hanlon, Isabel Leonard, Leonard Slatkin; photo (c)Carly Finke

Here’s my report on the New York Philharmonic’s closing orchestral concert of the 2022 Bravo Vail Music Festival:

One of four orchestras appearing at Bravo! Vail this summer, the New York Philharmonic brought along six different programmes, the first four of which were led by music director Jaap van Zweden – including a cathartic Mahler Sixth. Leonard Slatkin took over the reins for the remaining two programmes in the open-air main venue: an all-Tchaikovsky evening and this concluding concert, “A Sondheim Celebration”….


Filed under: Bravo! Vail Music Festival, New York Philharmonic, review, Stephen Sondheim

All-Tchaikovsky Night, and a Tribute to the Late Bramwell Tovey

The New York Philharmonic with cellist Zlatomir Fung and Leonard Slatkin; photo (c) Jorge Gustavo Elias

The conductor for last night’s Bravo Vail concert with the New York Philharmonic was to have been the much-loved Bramwell Tovey, who passed away on July 12. Leonard Slatkin, who took his place on the podium, paid tribute with a deeply felt interpretation of “Nimrod” from Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” as the encore. Slatkin was completely in his element for this sold-out, all-Tchaikovsky concert — and not just for the blockbuster works (the “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture” and Fifth Symphony) but the “Rococo Variations” they framed. You could feel him drawing on his vast experience with and love for this music to shape a dramatic arc that overwhelmed with its intensity in both R&J and the Fifth. But he was also brought out Tchaikovsky’s neoclassical finesse in the Variations, which showcased the refined, poetic musicianship of cello soloist Zlatomir Fung.

Filed under: Bravo! Vail Music Festival, conductors, Tchaikovsky

Chamber Music at Bravo! Vail

Verona Quartet with Anne-Marie McDermott, photo (c) Jorge Gustavo Elias

Last night I got my first sample of the chamber side of Bravo! Vail Music Festival with a smart program featuring the Verona Quartet and Artistic Director Anne-Marie McDermott at the keyboard. Puccini’s early “Crisantemi” and the first of Beethoven’s Op. 18 string quartets revealed a flair for finely calibrated ensemble balance and color, with a cross-connection of moods traced between Beethoven’s Adagio and the elegiac Puccini miniature.

For me the highlight was an impassioned performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 1 — also a youthful work, in fact written when he was only 18 — for which McDermott joined the Veronese to play the taxing, ever-present piano part with power and poise. Together they made a brilliant case for this shamefully long ignored gem, obviously enjoying the fecundity of Coleridge-Taylor’s imagination. Captivating from start to finish, this is the kind of performance that thankfully is reclaiming his work the repertoire.

Filed under: Beethoven, Bravo! Vail Music Festival, chamber music, Puccini, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Starting the Week at Bravo! Vail Music Festival

Photo (c) Jorge Gustavo Elias

Just some quick first impressions on my first trip to the Bravo!Vail Music Festival. It began Saturday with the second of four concerts of the New York Philharmonic‘s 2022 residency here. I admired Conrad Tao’s deeply personal and inventive account of Mozart’s G major Concerto K. 453 (including his own cadenzas) and a stirring Dvořák Seventh, all prefaced by Nina Shenkhar’s new “Lumina,” an exquisite study of light and shade.

The program was led by Jaap van Zweden, who returned last night with a knockout interpretation of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Sunday’s moody weather provided a fitting backdrop and also made me wonder whether we would have thunder underlining the hammer strokes — or even adding an extra one. But the skies behaved, and in any case all ears were intent on every gesture coming from the crowded Ford Amphitheater stage. Van Zweden’s laser focus drew remarkably tight, driven playing from the musicians but also left plenty of room for expressive and impactful solos. Mahler’s uncompromising symphonic juggernaut had its devastating effect but paradoxically left the audience exuberant, even overjoyed — an aftereffect of catharsis?

Filed under: Bravo! Vail Music Festival, Mahler, music festivals

Congratulations to Jonathon Heyward

The news that 29-year-old Jonathon Heyward has been named Baltimore Symphony’s new music director is most welcome. His tenure will start at the beginning of the 2023-24 season and is for an initial five-year term.

I noted last year that this is an artist who would go far. When I reviewed his Seattle Symphony debut in June 2019, I wrote that “the chemistry between them produced such subtle and winning results that it defies belief they haven’t been regular collaborators for years.”

The only downside is that this development puts him out of the running for Seattle Symphony as it embarks on its search for a new music director.

Heartiest congratulations to Jonathon!

Filed under: Jonathon Heyward, music news

Per Nørgård at 90

Today marks the 90th birthday of the phenomenally imaginative, innovative, and prolific Per Nørgård. The eminent Danish composer, born in Copenhagen in 1932, grew up in a non-musical family but showed talent at an early age. The evolution of his musical language has been fascinating to behold, moving from an identification with the sound world of Sibelius and “the universe of the Nordic mind” (his phrase) to experiments with European Modernism, the development of a unique kind of serialism through his “infinity series” method, and on to the astonishing series of transformations in his style ever since.

Fellow composer Karl Aage Rasmussen describes Nørgård’s inspirations as based in an openness to “the unending variety in nature, the endless connections between things, and not least the infinitely complex universe represented by any sound, no matter how modest.”

Nørgård at 90

Filed under: music news, Per Nørgård

 Sō Percussion Summer Institute

The Sō Percussion Summer Institute for 2022 begins on 10 July and runs two weeks. Here is the calendar of concerts, plus the faculty and guest artist lecture schedule (lectures can be audited online). Check out events that are available to livestream on  Sō Percussion’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

Filed under: music news, percussion

Seattle Chamber Music Society Launches Its 2022 Summer Festival

Ehnes Quartet; image © Jorge Gustavo Elias

And they’re off to an auspicious start… Here’s my review of opening night for Bachtrack:

Nothing could stop this show from going on — not even a popped viola string nearly midway through Béla Bartók’s grueling String Quartet no. 6 at the center of the program that opened the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s 2022 Summer Festival


Filed under: Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, review, Seattle Chamber Music Society

A Double Portrait: Johannes Brahms & Jonathan Woody

Here’s an online concert well worth taking the time to enjoy. Byron Schenkman & Friends, presents A Double Portrait: Johannes Brahms & Jonathan Woody, a program that includes the world premiere of Jonathan Woody’s nor shape of today to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community (first performed on 22 May 2022).

Also the first commission by Byron Schenkman & Friends, Woody composed nor shape of today to a text by Raquel Salas Rivera, a queer Puerto Rican and Philadelphian of non-binary gender. His new work is a response or companion piece to Brahms’s Op. 91 songs for alto, viola, and piano.  

Jonathan Woodley has provided this commentary on his new work: “In composing this piece, I very much wanted to consider it a companion to Johannes Brahms’s Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano, op. 91. The Brahms songs deal with longing–the longing for stillness, for respite from the tormented mind, and in the case of the second Brahms song, Geistliches Wiegenlied (Sacred Lullaby), the longing of Mary to protect her child from the tribulations he eventually must face. In our twenty-first 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. The poet Raquel Salas Rivera writes in a deeply moving and eloquent way about these experiences, and his poetry struck me as perfectly situated to answer the Brahms songs on poems by Rückert and Geibel (a paraphrase of a poem originally in Spanish by Lope de Vega). Rivera writes in both English and Spanish, and the fluidity between the two languages was an inspiration to me in creating this song. I attempt to emulate Salas Rivera’s fluidity in gender and language by incorporating a fluidity in musical idiomatic expression; at times nor shape of today sounds like Romantic music, like Baroque music, and like music of the 21st century. While I don’t share the experience of those with trans and non-binary identities, I hoped to capture the sense of longing that so many human beings feel to belong, to be loved, and to be safe.”

Complete Program:

Intro 1:10 – Jonathan Woody: stone and steel 8:45 – Johannes Brahms: Sapphic Ode, Op. 94, no. 4 11:53 – Franz Schubert: Song of Old Age, D. 778 17:20 – Johannes Brahms: Intermezzo in A, Op. 118, no. 2 24:01 – Johannes Brahms: Lullaby, Op. 49, no. 4, for voice and piano 26:21 – Johannes Brahms: Two Songs for voice, viola, and piano 39:14 – Jonathan Woody: nor shape of today.

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, chamber music, commissions

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