MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A Thousand Splendid Suns at Seattle Opera

In just a few weeks, Seattle Opera will unveil a new opera that has been many years in the making: an adaptation of Afghan American writer Khaled Hosseini‘s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns by the American composer Sheila Silver and librettist Stephen Kitsakos. Hossein’s fiction has inspired adaptations for the screen and the spoken stage — and even a graphic novel. But this marks the first time an opera has been made from his work. Seattle Opera’s production also presents the pioneering Afghan filmmaker Roya Sadat’s debut as an opera director. 

I wrote a preview feature for Opera Now, which appears in the January 2023 issue:

The fate of Afghanistan and oppression of women are two phenomena that have acquired a topical urgency in today’s world. Sheila Silver has been immersed in these subjects since 2009, when she first encountered Khaled Hosseini’s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns. She was struck by the overwhelming power of Hosseini’s narrative, which unfolds in Afghanistan between the 1960s and 2002. Above all, she sensed an operatic intensity in the bond that develops between the two protagonists, Mariam and Laila, as they struggle to cope in a milieu of abuse and domestic violence. The strength of that bond is what makes the shattering sacrifice at the opera’s climax possible. 

continue (with subscription)

Filed under: commissions, new opera, Seattle Opera

SCMS Winter Festival 2023

Seattle Chamber Music Society’s 2023 edition of the Winter Festival has started, presenting two weekends of chamber music by Beethoven, Fanny Mendelssohn, Ravel, William Grant Still, Julia Perry, et al. plus a new work by contemporary American composer Jeremy Turner, who is especially known for his TV and stage scores.

The second weekend of concerts includes the local premiere (Feb. 3) of Turner’s Six Mile House for clarinet, violin, piano, and cello. which was inspired by the Charleston, SC-based urban legend about Sweeney Todd-ish murders said to have been committed by an evil innkeeper couple.

SCMS Artistic Director James Ehnes will be onstage for the three concerts of the second weekend, playing works by Brahms, Shostakovich, and César Franck. And a free prelude recital is open to the public before each concert — no ticket required. Here’s the free prelude lineup:

January 27 – 6:30PM
Richard Strauss: Violin Sonata, Op.18

Arnaud Sussmann, violin
Jeewon Park, piano

January 28 – 6:30PM
Franz Schubert: Fantasie in F minor, D. 940
Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67

SCMS Academy Musicians

January 29 – 2:00PM
Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 6, Op. 82

Adam Neiman, piano

February 3 – 6:30PM
Julia Perry: Prelude
William Grant Still: Three Visions
George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, solo version 1924

Andrew Armstrong, piano

February 4 – 6:30PM
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3

SCMS Academy Musicians

February 5 – 2:00PM
Franz Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5

James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti, violins;
Che-Yen Chen, viola; Edward Arron, cello

Filed under: chamber music, James Ehnes, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Holocaust Remembrance Day: Lori Laitman’s Wertheim Park

This year, with so much hate being spewed around the world, commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is especially important. Seattle’s invaluable Music of Remembrance, now in its 25th year, is offering a free streaming of composer Lori Laitman’s Wertheim Park. The program will begin streaming on Friday, 27 January, and remain available online.

The streamed program is an enhanced video of the world premiere of Wertheim Park by Music of Remembrance on 30 October 2022 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. It features soprano Alisa Jordheim, with an instrumental ensemble of Laura DeLuca, clarinet; Mikhail Shmidt, violin; Jonathan Green, double bass; and Mina Miller, piano.

Laitman’s sixth commission for Music of Remembrance, Wertheim Park sets a poem by the late Susan de Sola and is a haunting elegy about the power of bearing witness.  It pictures the annual gathering at Amsterdam’s Wertheim Park, where people come together each year for Holocaust remembrance. 

“When Music of Remembrance asked me to compose a piece for their 25th season,” said Laitman, “I decided to explore the impact of the Holocaust on the next generation. Poet Susan de Sola lost many of her relatives in the Shoah, and Wertheim Park is an intimate depiction of the memorial march and its emotional impact on her.”

Filed under: American music, Holocaust, Music of Remembrance

‘I’m always looking for something new’: Midori in The Strad

February’s issue of The Strad includes my new profile of Midori, in which I take stock of the violinist on the 40th anniversary of her professional debut. Along with Midori’s reflections on her priorities, I include observations by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Derek Bermel, and Michael Stern.

link to article (subscription required)

Filed under: profile, violinists

Missy Mazzoli’s The Listeners

As a huge fan of Missy Mazzoli, I’d meant to post this wonderful gift from Den Norske Opera & Ballett but let it slip through the cracks. The company recently made this recording of its world premiere production of her latest opera, The Listeners, available on YouTube until 12 May 2023.

Premiered last September as part of the Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival, The Listeners continues Mazzoli’s longstanding collaboration with the librettist Royce Vavrek. They developed an original story by Jordan Tannahill based on the phenomenon of the “global hum,” the dynamics of cults, and the abuse of power.

Synopsis from Den Norske Opera’s website:

“The Listeners” follows Claire, a suburban high school teacher living in the southwestern United States. Her life spirals out of control when she begins to hear a mysterious low-frequency hum. The Hum keeps her awake at night and threatens her sanity, but she finds an ally in Kyle, a student who also hears the all-consuming noise. When Kyle discovers a group that meets regularly in hopes of understanding and eliminating the source of the Hum, Claire is optimistic that this might be a turning point in her crisis. The group is led by the charismatic Howard Bard and his second-in-command Angela, who provide a compassionate environment for the beleaguered Claire and Kyle.

As the group grows in number the meetings devolve into strange, ritualistic behavior. When former soldier Dillon is expelled from the group after suggesting that the noise is a government conspiracy, he attempts to shoot down a mobile phone tower. He is arrested and criminal attention is placed on Howard and the cult of Listeners. The group explodes when it is revealed that Howard has abused his power and manipulated the members. Claire, armed with newfound confidence, picks up the pieces in an effort to harness the power of the Hum.

Filed under: Missy Mazzoli, music news, new opera

Art From Ashes: Music of Remembrance 

Starting tomorrow, Sunday, January 22 and running through Sunday, January 29, Music of Remembrance (MOR) will present its annual Art From Ashes concert to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This year’s concert, streamed free, offers a remastered video of selected works from a special event where MOR’s core ensemble performed on a quartet of historic instruments from the Violins of Hope collection.

That event at Benaroya Hall on March 1, 2020 – just before the pandemic shuttered all stages only days later – mostly features music by composers lost to the Holocaust: David Beigelman’s haunting Dybbuk Dances; string trios composed in the Terezín concentration camp by Gideon Klein and Hans Krása; and a quartet by Erwin Schulhoff. The concert opens with the Aria by Miecyslaw Weinberg, who suffered persecution at both Nazi and Soviet hands.These musical treasures remain as a testament to inspiring courage and resilience in a time of unfathomable horrors. They tell stories that resonate today as strongly as ever.

The Violins of Hope are a unique private collection of string instruments that belonged to Jews who played them before and during the Holocaust. Lovingly restored by Israeli violin makers Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, they now sing again even though their former owners were silenced. They help keep history alive and connect us to inspiring and intimate human stories. 

Music of Remembrance’s next live concert at Benaroya Hall on March 19, 2023 features mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke in Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Intonations: Songs from the Violins of Hope, a dramatic song cycle that was inspired by these historic instruments. The songs imagine the stories that the violins would tell about their own odysseys and those of their owners.


Miecyslaw Weinberg
Aria, op. 9 (1942)
Mikhail Shmidt, violin Natasha Bazhanovviolin
Susan Gulkis AssadiviolaWalter Graycello

Hans Krása
Dance (Terezín, 1943)
Mikhail Shmidt, violin Susan Gulkis Assadiviola  Walter Graycello

Gideon Klein
String Trio (Terezín, 1944)
Mikhail Shmidtviolin Susan Gulkis Assadiviola  Walter Graycello

David Beigelman
Dybbuk Dances (Lodz, 1925)
Artur Girsky, violin Natasha Bazhanovviolin

Erwin Schulhoff
Five Pieces for String Quartet (1923)
Mikhail Shmidtviolin Natasha Bazhanovviolin
Susan Gulkis Assadiviola Walter Gray, cello

Filed under: music news, Music of Remembrance

Seattle Opera Announces 60th-Anniversary Season

Das Rheingold, Brian Staufenfels production; image (c) Cory Weaver

I’m delighted by the mix Seattle Opera has come up with for the 2023-24 season. Along with the first bit of Wagner’s Ring to be staged here in a decade (setting aside an abridged concert Walküre performed a couple years ago), the company makes a rare outing with Handel in its first-ever production of Alcina, directed by Tim Albery and conducted by Christine Brandes, with Vanessa Goikoetxea as Alcina, Randall Scotting as Ruggiero, Sharleen Joynt as Morgana, and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Bradamante.

Malcolm X, the milestone debut opera by Anthony Davis from 1984, to a libretto by Thulani Davis, also promises to be a highlight. Presented in co-production with Detroit Opera, Opera Omaha, the Metropolitan Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago, it will be directed by Robert O’Hara, with a cast including Kevin Kellogg as the civil rights icon, Joshua Stewart as Street/Elijah Muhammad, and Leah Hawkins in her compay debut as Louise Little/Betty Shabazz. Kazem Abdullah conducts.

And even another go at Rossini’s Barber of Seville (directed by Lindy Hume, new head of Opera San José) gets an interesting new angle with the wonderful young conductor Valentina Peleggi making her Seattle Opera debut.

Das Rheingold kicks the season off in August, in Brian Staufenbiel’s production first introduced at Minnesota Opera in 2016. It will be a homecoming for Seattle Opera’s beloved Wotan of Rings past, Greer Grimsley, heading a mostly American cast that includes Michael Mayes as Alberich, Melody Wilson as Fricka, Frederick Ballentine as Loge, Kenneth Kellogg as Fafner, Peixin Chen in his company debut as Fasolt, and Denyce Graves as Erda. Ludovic Morlot will conduct.

As to whether this presages the beginning of a new complete Ring, Seattle Opera tweeted: “We have no plans to produce the full Ring in the near future, but Wagner will continue to be a regular part of our seasons.”

“I am thrilled to be able to celebrate 60 years of Seattle Opera with this first-rate lineup of artists and titles,” said Christina Scheppelmann. “60 years is a significant milestone for any American opera company, and it’s a testament to the strong tradition of opera and the performing arts in this city. This season will be both a reminder of that history and a promise of many more years to come.”

Performance information

Das Rheingold

·         Music and libretto by Richard Wagner

·         August 12, 16, 18, & 20, 2023

·         McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109)



·         Music by George Frideric Handel, libretto by an unidentified poet

·         October 14, 15, 20, 22, 25, & 28, 2023

·         McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109)


Holiday Chorus Concert

·         December 8, 9, & 10, 2023

·         Tagney Jones Hall at the Opera Center (363 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109)

X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X

·         Music by Anthony Davis, libretto by Thulani Davis, story by Christopher Davis

·         February 24 & 25, March 1, 3, 6, & 9, 2024

·         McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109)


The Barber of Seville

·         Music by Gioachino Rossini, libretto by Cesare Sterbini

·         May 4, 5, 10, 12, 15, & 18, 2024

·         McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109)


60th Anniversary Concert & Gala

·         May 11, 2024

·         McCaw Hall

Filed under: music news, Ring cycle, Seattle Opera

A Homecoming for J’Nai Bridges

J’Nai Bridges stars as Delilah in Seattle Opera’s “Samson and Delilah in Concert.” (Todd Rosenberg Photography)

I spoke with J’Nai Bridges for the Seattle Times about her upcoming, long-awaited Seattle Opera debut. She will sing Delilah in two concert performances of Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila.

This is where it all started.

J’Nai Bridges treasures the memories of her youth in Lakewood just outside Tacoma. Growing up in a close-knit, supportive family, she was encouraged to pursue her exceptional musical talents early on. Even today, she can count on her parents and siblings to travel far and wide to see her perform on the world’s leading opera stages — whether at the Metropolitan Opera in New York or in Munich, where she made her European debut in 2017.


Filed under: Seattle Opera, Seattle Times

Amanda Forsythe Sings Bach with Apollo’s Fire

Soprano Amanda Forsythe sings Bach, with oboist Debra Nagy at left and Apollo’s Fire artistic director Jeannette Sorrell conducting from the harpsichord (all photos courtesy Apollo’s Fire)

I reviewed Heavenly Bach, Amanda Forsythe’s wonderful new release of Bach arias and cantatas with Apollo’s Fire, for Early Music America:

“Happiness writes white,” as the phrase goes—or, to borrow the formulation by Tolstoy that has become modernity’s default position: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Attempting to convey the condition of unadulterated joy in artistic terms is to risk a bland sentimentality; the bad news about the human condition is what sells. Part of J.S. Bach’s greatness lies in his ability to paint the full spectrum so convincingly, without compromise.


Filed under: Bach, CD review, Early Music America

Daniel Barenboim Ends His Tenure at Berlin Staatsoper

The Berlin Staatsoper just released a statement by long-term general director Daniel Barenboim announcing the end of his tenure there for reasons of health: “Unfortunately, my health has deteriorated significantly over the past year. I can no longer provide the performance that is rightly demanded of a general music director. Therefore, I ask for your understanding that I am giving up this position as of 31 January 2023.”

It’s the sad culmination of what has been a very difficult period for the maestro. Over the last few months, he had to cancel the many celebrations that had been organized around his 80th birthday in November.

This will be a sea-change for Berlin in particular, whose musical life the indefatigable Barenboim has dominated for decades.

Filed under: Berlin Staatsoper, Daniel Barenboim, music news

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