MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Michael Tilson Thomas with the National Symphony

Honored to have been able to write the program notes for this weekend’s National Symphony concerts with Michael Tilson Thomas. The program features his own remarkable, unclassifiable  Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind.

Filed under: American music, Michael Tilson Thomas, National Symphony, program notes

George Crumb: An Appreciation

George Crumb’s final work: Kronos — Kryptos

Reflecting on George Crumb for Musical America:

The American composer George Crumb, whose innovative, theatrically charged soundscapes explored a new kind of musical poetry, has died after a long and far-reaching career. He was 92. 

Filed under: American music, George Crumb, music news, Musical America

RIP George Crumb (1929-2022)

Sad news via Bridge Records of the passing of George Crumb, who reportedly passed away today, 6 February 2022, at his home in Media, Pennsylvania.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer was 92 years old. My appreciation for Musical America is here.

Filed under: American music, music news

Juilliard’s Focus 2022: The Making of an American Music, 1899-1948

Tonight is the opening program in Juilliard’s weeklong Focus 2022 Festival, which will tackle the theme The Making of an American Music, 1899-1948. And all events will be livestreamed through Juilliard LIVE on the school’s website.

I had the privilege of editing the program book and can attest that these carefully curated programs are well worth your attention. From the recent New York Times article on Focus and its founder and director, the remarkable Joel Sachs: “’It blossomed into a kind of monster,’ Sachs said, chuckling. “The program book is 88 pages. But it’s a really interesting period.'” [link to program book]

Filed under: American music, Joel Sachs, Juilliard

RIP Alvin Lucier (1931-2021)

Original 1969 recording of I Am Sitting in a Room here.

Filed under: Alvin Lucier, American music, music news

Pity These Ashes: Tulsa 1921-2021

Among the commemorations of the Tulsa Race Massacre — the horrible events of 31 May-1 June 1921 that took place in Tulsa’s Greenwood District — here’s a concert scheduled for 19 June/Juneteenth by the Harlem Chamber Players and featuring the world premiere Adolphus Hailstork’Tulsa 1921 (Pity These Ashes, Pity This Dust), an operatic retelling of the massacre.

The mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges will sing in this digitally streamed concert on Juneteenth at 7pm, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the massacre. She will be joined by the violinist Jessica (Lady Jess) McJunkins, WQXR host and author Terrance McKnight, harpist Ashley Jackson, and conductor Amadi Azikiwe leading the Harlem Chamber Players.

Also on the program are pieces by Jessie MontgomeryAlice Coltrane, and Trevor Weston.

COMPLETE PROGRAM:

Jessie Montgomery Starburst
Alice Coltrane Prema for Harp and Strings arranged by Tom Cunningham of Urban Playground Orchestra
Adolphus Hailstork TULSA 1921 (Pity Theses Ashes, Pity This Dust) for Mezzo-Soprano and Chamber Orchestra
*World Premiere – libretto by Herbert Woodward Martin
Trevor Weston The People Could Fly for Violin Solo, Narrator and Strings (based upon an African-American folktale by Virginia Hamilton; featuring dancers from Harlem School of the Arts)

FEATURING
Amadi Azikiwe, Music Director and Conductor
Terrance McKnight, Host and Performer
J’Nai Bridges, Mezzo-Soprano
Lady Jess, Violin
Ashley Jackson, Harp
With an orchestra comprising members of The Harlem Chamber Players
Also featuring dancers from Harlem School of the Arts

And here is J’Nai Bridges in  Daniel Bernard Roumain’s aria about the massacre, They Still Want To Kill Us:

Filed under: American music, music news

Robert Carl: White Heron

My review of this marvelous BMOP anthology of Robert Carl’s music for Gramophone has now been posted here.

Aficionados of contemporary music will already be familiar with the name Robert Carl as a writer. He has authored extensive reviews for Fanfare and a recent, thought-provoking collection of essays on the challenges faced by 21st-century composers…

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Filed under: American music, CD review, Gramophone

Multi-cultural Odes: Jessie Montgomery in Profile

Here’s my latest story for Strings magazine:

An unmistakable harmony holds sway in Jessie Montgomery’s creative work. Her attunement to larger cultural contexts is eloquent and persuasive. Take Banner, Montgomery’s contribution to the tributes marking the U.S. National Anthem’s bicentennial in 2014. A compact, powerful piece for string quartet and string (or chamber) orchestra, Banner confronts what she calls “the contradictions, leaps and bounds, and milestones that allow us to celebrate and maintain the tradition of our ideals”…

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Filed under: American music, Strings

Damien Geter’s Cantata for A More Hopeful Tomorrow

Following the premiere of Damian Geter‘s short film Cantata for A More Hopeful Tomorrow last November, The Washington Chorus has now made the audio recording available to download and/or stream via multiple platforms. 

The Washington Chorus is among the first choirs in the country to release a recording that was produced 100% remotely – all choral singers along with guest soloists Aundi Marie Moore (soprano) and Seth Parker Woods (cello) recorded their parts from home during the pandemic. Complete list of streaming platforms.

Influenced by stories of hope and the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on the Black community, The Washington Chorus and Artistic Director Dr. Eugene Rogers commissioned composer Damien Geter and Emmy award-winning filmmaker Bob Berg both from Portland, Oregon, to produce a short music film that premiered in November 2020. The work features soprano Aundi Marie Moore, cellist Seth Parker Woods, and over 100 singers of The Washington Chorus.

“It was important for The Washington Chorus to step forward with musical space for reflection, healing, and hope amidst the COVID-19 global health pandemic and America’s long overdue reckoning with historic racial injustices,” says Stephen Beaudoin, TWC Executive Director.

Filed under: American music, choral music

Aaron Copland: American Populist

This new film from PostClassical Ensemble’s More than Music Project explores Aaron Copland’s far left activism — including a rare performance of his prize-winning workers’ song “Into the Streets, May First,” with its call “Up with the sickle and the hammer!”

Notes Joseph Horowitz of PCE, “It’s all eerily pertinent today, this saga of an iconic American composer jostled by Populist currents on the far left, then the far right – and finally retreating from the fray.”

Among the film’s participants are the American historians: Michael Kazin (on populism) and Joseph McCartin (on the Red Scare). The soundtrack includes excerpts from PCE’s Naxos DVD of The City (1939), which Horowitz regards as “Copland’s highest achievement as a film composer, and the least-known consequential music that he composed.”

Aaron Copland, he concludes, “somewhat resembles ‘a cork in a stream,’ buffeted by political and social currents — a saga that raises many questions, including: What is the fate of the arts in the United States?”

An index to the 75-minute film:

10:14 – Copland on that Communist picnic

11:48 – Copland on workers’ songs

12:34 – “Into the Streets, May First” sung by Lisa Vroman and William Sharp

16:37 – Copland on Hollywood film music (with some Korngold to listen to)

20:00 – Excerpts from The City

39:20 – Joseph McCartin on the Red Scare

44:34 – Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn grill Copland

58:25 – Music historian Beth Levy on Copland’s quest for musical identity

1:04:32 – Michael Kazin on Copland and the Popular Front

1:06:30 – Horowitz’s summing up — a “cork in a stream” – with comparisons to Charles Ives and George Gershwin: composers with deeper roots

1:12:54 – The last word goes to pianist Benjamin Pasternack, recalling an illuminating meeting with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. 

Filed under: Aaron Copland, American music, PostClassical Ensemble

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