MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

About Thomas May

Welcome to Memeteria


Apart from playing trombone in the school band and the usual radio pap, I discovered music in a serious way at a relatively late age – when I was around 12. That was around the time I went crazy over an abandoned piano and thought I could learn to play all the Beethoven sonatas in a year or so “if I applied myself.” At least I didn’t lack for foolhardy ideas about how music actually works. A year or so later I began my first attempt to compose a symphony — to “prepare the way” for the opera on King Lear for which posterity had destined me — when I discovered with horror that my main theme in E major had been stolen by Anton Bruckner. But I’ve been trying to make up for lost time ever since, and music is a passion inseparably bound to my love of  theater, fiction, poetry, film, and the other arts.

I studied Classics at Yale University and then spent a blissful year at the University of Tübingen as a Fulbright Scholar. For a brief interlude I gave grad school a go at the University of Michigan (in Comp Lit/German/Classics/Theater). This was the heyday of post-structuralism. Heady conversations about theory — and mulling over mulling over theory — were often stimulating intellectually, but for once my practical sense, otherwise reliably dormant, took charge and I abandoned the pipe dream of the academic life.

After starting my writing career as a freelancer for The Washington Post under Tim Page, I was lured to resettle on the West Coast. Nowadays I’m a full-time freelance arts writer focusing on music and theater. My interests are voracious, from early music to Nico Muhly and Unsuk Chin, the ancient Greeks to Brighde Mullins. I have a serious passion for exploring how contemporary composers are transforming the legacy of “classical music” (imploring indulgence for the quotation marks: it’s just that I’ve found they’re the most efficient way to deal with that burden of a misnomer).

My books include Decoding Wagner and The John Adams Reader, the first full-length book in English devoted to one of the most important figures composing today. I write for many publications, including The New York Times, The Seattle Times, Gramophone, and Strings magazine, and also contribute essays to the program books of leading music institutions around the world. Since 2009 I’ve served as the English writer and program editor for the Lucerne Festival.

Thanks for visiting my blog – I hope you’ll become part of the conversation here at memeteria.

21 Responses

  1. Moshe Amirim says:

    To Whom it May concern;
    As a cello lover and an enthusiastic advocator of cello rarities, I would like to share with you a new release on Centaur Records of American – Israeli cellist Amit Peled:

    Tsidtsadze: 5 Pieces on Folk Themes.
    Popper: Tarantella, Op. 33
    Amit Peled & Noreen Polera

    Will it be possible to make a notice of it on your beautiful blog?

    Sincerely Yours,

    Moshe Amirim

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful blog Tom always inspiring and thoughtful

  3. Enjoyed very much reading, the Thomas May entry on Leonard Bernstein as a Symphonist in the Program for the Concert by BSO at Symphony Hall in Boston, 3/15/2018.

  4. Sam Gubins says:

    I’ve just read your insightful program notes for COSI, which were distributed last night at the Met. One of my favorite operas, I was delighted by your commentary and despite more than 50 years of familiarity with this gem, having seen several performances, and knowing the English translation (Richard Tucker, Roberta Peters) by heart, your essay taught me so much. Thank you.

  5. Margot Marlatt says:

    I appreciate your notes on the Bach Concerto for oboe & violin (Kennedy Ctr).

  6. Styra Avins says:

    Instead of an email, I’ll just be brief and congratulate you on your very informative program note for Verdi’s Falstaff. I read it at the Met (NY) last night, and because I write program notes myself, I know how unusual the breadth of your essay is. Glad the Met program book editor gave you enough space!
    Styra Avins

  7. Dear Thomas, I would like to send you an advance copy of a recording of my cello concerto by Sara Sant’Ambrogio with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. What would be the best way to do that? with best wishes, Bruce Wolosoff

  8. musanim says:

    Dear Mr. May, I apologize for posting this publicly, but I don’t know how to reach you via email. I thought you might want to know about these animated graphical scores: Best regards, Stephen Malinowski

  9. john grimes says:

    I just read the Met program notes for Akhnaten. I cannot find the Blackwood documentary you mentioned on YT. Only a trailer seems to be available. Can you point me to it please?

    • Thomas May says:

      The documentary by Michael Blackwood that I mention — A Composer’s Notes: Philip Glass and the Making of an Opera — is unfortunately no longer available on YouTube but has been released on DVD by Glass’s label Orange Mountain and can also be found on Amazon Prime.

  10. Dear Mr. May,

    I have not read such an uplifting arts story since the pandemic began. Hurrah for those Nutcracker cassettes and film snippets of classical music. I watched my goddaughter thrill to the irresistible melodies and rythms of that Tchaikovsky work when she was just three. But to have a young girl be transformed in the middle of the Pacific, and to persevere with innate desire: from making contact with visitors to Chile and Berlin… and then back again, is sensational. I have just listened to snippets of her Années de Pélerinage and am quite impressed. So thank you for writing this paean to the human spirit from someone who has been inconsolably worried about classical music and the artists and arts even before Covid.

    Full disclosure: I am a classical music publicist here in New York. My husband (and business partner) knew the Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau and we looked after Alfred Brendel’s publicity for 25 years. Still representing contemporary composers and performers & paying our staff and trying to survive.

    I never post anything publically, but didn’t know how else to thank you.

    Most sincerely,

    Josephine Hemsing
    Hemsing Associates, Inc.

  11. […] good friend and former Amazon Music colleague Thomas May — a freelance arts and theatre writer and proprietor of — was in Port […]

  12. I”d like to send you a poem regarding Hans Sachs’ ancient Greek predecessor, relics of whom were found in the Greek agora some years back and which prompted my late husband Eric Salzman (composer and critic) to write a wonderful poem that expounds on this amazing coincidence. But I dont have your email. How can I send it to you?

  13. […] it was built. LAMC did this as well, as expected, but it gives us a chance to offer a shout-out to Thomas May, who has been writing the bulk of their notes for many years now. The writer of program notes […]

  14. Ganna Krupina says:

    Mr.May, will you be possibly interested in Ukrainian chamber music of 18th to 20th century? I may share with you the info about related upcoming event in Seattle.

  15. Michael Irish says:

    Reading Decoding Wagner…

  16. Michelle P. says:

    Hi Thomas, hoping to get in touch with you about program notes and articles for one of my clients. We worked together about 10 years ago when I was with Washington National Opera. Could you please get in touch with me via email? michelle at pencomms dot com Thanks!

  17. Marlene Poor says:

    Read your notes in Playbill after a very fine performance of Dialogues of the Carmelites at the Met. I see that a Marie of the Incarnation 1599-1672 was canonized in 2014. Could there be a mix-up here?

    • Thomas May says:

      Thanks so much for your comment. I was puzzled by your reference to the recently canonized Marie of the Incarnation, since she was not mentioned in the text I wrote in 2013, which the Met published for that revival of the production. It appears that someone on the Met’s editorial team took it upon themselves to “update” said text without consulting with or even informing me. (I’m a freelancer and not on staff.) I’m guessing they mixed up Françoise-Geneviève Philippe, whose memoirs inspired the opera, with the famous Marie of the Incarnation, since Françoise-Geneviève took her (Barbe Acarie’s) name in tribute when she entered the Carmel of Compiègne. I will write to the Met staff to have them clear this up. Thanks for pointing out the error.

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