MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Vancouver Bach Festival 2017

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Last summer, Early Music Vancouver inaugurated an annual Bach Festival, and this year’s edition focuses on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation.

A number of prominent Seattle-based artists are heading north to perform: Stephen Stubbs, Byron Schenkman, and Tekla Cunningham. The festival’s 14 concerts run  August 1-11, 2017 (most of them at Christ Church Cathedral downtown).

Along with music by J.S. Bach, the program spans the historical spectrum from Renaissance polyphony, Latin American Baroque, 18th century opera to Romantic composers, along with contemporaries like Philip Glass featured on  cellist Matt Haimovitz’s “Overtures to Bach” concert.

The complete lineup:

Overtures to Bach
August 1 at 6pm and 9pm
Renowned as a musical pioneer, Canadian cellist Matt Haimovitz performs four of Bach’s beloved Cello Suites preceded by new commissions written by composers including Philip Glass and David Sanford that anticipate, reflect, and transform the originals.

Schumann Dichterliebe and Brahms Four Serious Songs
August 2 at 1pm
Internationally acclaimed Canadian baritone Tyler Duncan and pianist Erika Switzer,  playing an original 19th century fortepiano.

Songs of Religious Upheaval: Byrd, Tallis, Tye – Music from Reformation England
August 2 at 7:30pm (Pre-concert talk 6:45pm)
Cinquecento sings  music of William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, and Christoper Tye
Lutheran Vespers: Songs for Troubled Times
August 3 at 1pm
Eleven Vancouver-based performers offer a complete Lutheran vespers written to provide comfort and consolation following the Thirty Years’ War and its aftermath
Bach’s Italian Concerto
August 3 at 7:30pm (Pre-concert talk 6:45pm)
The French Overture and the Italian Concerto performed by harpsichordist Alexander Weimann.  Swiss baritone and founding musical director of Gli Angeli Genève Stephan MacLeod joins Weimann for cantatas  by Handel and  Bach
Conversions: Mendelssohn, Moscheles, and Bach
August 4 at 1pm
Fortepianist Byron Schenkman & cellist Michael Unterman perform works by Mendelssohn and Moscheles, two Jewish artists who converted to Christianity to conform to social norms.
Handel in Italy: Virtuosic Cantatas
August 4 at 7:30pm (Pre-concert talk 6:45pm)
Terry Wey and Jenny Högström perform cantatas and love duets by Handel from his early Italian period, along with a duet by Agostino Steffani (one of Handel’s mentors)
Playing with B-a-c-H: Sonatas for Violin by Telemann, Pisendel and J.S. Bach
August 8 at 1pm
Baroque violinist Tekla Cunningham performs a solo Bach partita, a Pisendel
solo sonata, and two solo Telemann fantasias
Before Bach: “The Fountains of Israel” by Johann Schein (1623)
August 8 at 7:30 pm (Pre-concert talk 6:45pm)
European vocal ensemble Gli Angeli Genève sing Johann Schein’s Israelis Brünnlein
Bach for Two Flutes
August 9 at 1pm
Janet See and Soile Stratkauskas play Baroque flutes, with Christopher Bagan on harpsichord
Heavenly Love: Sacred Arias for Counter-Tenor
August 9, at 7:30pm (Pre-concert talk 6:45pm)
Alex Potter sings music by Buxtehude, Schütz, Purcell, and Strozzi
Bach Transcriptions – Victoria Baroque Players
August 10 at 1pm
Bach’s trio sonatas for organ transcribed for chamber ensemble

Music of Missions and Mystery: Latin American Baroque
August 10, at 7:30pm (Pre-concert talk 6:45pm)
Pacific MusicWorks and director Stephen Stubbs
J.S. Bach St. John Passion at the Chan Centre
August 11, at 7:30 pm (Pre-concert talk 6:45pm)
The Pacific Baroque Orchestra, the Vancouver Cantata Singers, and a cast of seven soloists led by Alexander Weimann

To complement the artist lineup, EMV will offer an array of thought-provoking film screenings and expert talks

Filed under: Bach, festivals, music news

Ignacio Prego’s Revelatory Goldbergs

 

A new review for Vanguard Seattle:

An opportunity to hear the Goldberg Variations in live performance on harpsichord is rare enough. But the latest offering from Byron Schenkman & Friends was special in several ways. For one thing, it marked the first time that Byron Schenkman has presented a program in his chamber music series without himself being one of the performers. The Spanish harpsichordist Ignacio Prego had the show to himself for about 80 uninterrupted minutes.

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Filed under: Bach, review, Vanguard Seattle

The Healing Bach

bach-violin-partitas-strings-magazine-e1477009169612A link to my feature story, in this month’s Strings magazine, on the inexhaustible appeal of the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin:

Bach’s works for solo violin and cello are the Shakespearean monologues of the string world: The indefinable balance of technical mastery and interpretive insight they require is the touchstone of a great artist.

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Filed under: Bach, violinists

Igor Levit’s Big Win

There’s so much music news I’m still trying to catch up with: including the recent announcement of pianist Igor Levit’s big win. His mammoth account of three sets of variations — and it is a fantastic recording — was named 2016 Recording of the Year, the top prize from Gramophone.

My profile of Levit appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Listen Magazine:

It’s early February, over lunch before his Seattle debut later in the evening, and Igor Levit can’t stop talking about how thrilled he is to be touring the United States. It was only two years ago that the Russian-German pianist made his first U.S. appearance — choosing the unusually intimate venue of the Board of Officers Room at the Park Avenue Armory (seating for about 150) — just a few days before jumping in at the last minute for Hélène Grimaud in a City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra concert. (He did the same for Maurizio Pollini three months later.)

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Hugo Shirley interviewed Levit when Gramophone first reviewed the recording — Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, and Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Sony Classical) — for the November 2015 issue.

When I meet Levit in Berlin he is quick to make clear that he sees these composers as a trinity of equal importance. He doesn’t feel for one moment any sense of special pleading in the inclusion of Rzewski, the radical, consonant-heavy American composer (the name is pronounced ‘jefski’) whose People United was composed in 1975 as a modern complement to Beethoven’s great set of 33 variations on Diabelli’s simple little waltz.

The fact that it has 36 variations, following the 33 and 30 ‘Veränderungen’ (the German word implies something more transformational than the somewhat flat English equivalent) of the Diabellis and the Goldbergs respectively, offers just one pleasing numerical development between these works, with Bach’s set providing a foundational lexicon of variation techniques that both Beethoven and Rzewski build upon.

Congratulations, Igor Levit!

Filed under: Bach, Beethoven, Frederic Rzewski, pianists, profile

Mystery Mass: Seattle Pro Musica celebrates Bach’s enigmatic masterpiece in B minor

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Here’s my Seattle Times story on Karen Thomas and Seattle Pro Musica’s preparation for the Bach Mass in B minor, their concluding program of the season (this weekend):

Many classical-music fans consider Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor as the ultimate peak of Western choral music — but the composer never heard it performed in its entirety.

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Filed under: Bach, choral music, preview, Seattle Times

Scrolling Well-Tempered Clavier Book I

Played by Kenneth Gilbert on harpsichord with scrolling score:

Played on piano by Samuel Feinberg with scrolling score:

Filed under: Bach

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

Filed under: Bach, Christmas

A Chair and a Cello: Yo-Yo Ma Shows What Matters

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Yo-Yo Ma © Jason Bell
One irony of a musician operating at peak level is that the technique enabling this, the virtuosity that otherwise attracts so much attention, is reduced to secondary interest. It becomes a given and retreats into the background, eclipsed by the purely musical values that a less-confident technique would obscure. At least that’s the case when the musician is Yo-Yo Ma performing a solo recital as profoundly satisfying as he did on his latest visit to Seattle.

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Filed under: Bach, review, University of Washington

András Schiff on Bach

“Each day when I get up (and if there’s a piano) I have to play Bach for an hour. That’s how my day begins.”

Filed under: Bach, pianists

Yo-Yo Ma and the Bach Cello Suites

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The superstar cellist’s performance from last week at the BBC Proms can still be streamed here:

http://bbc.in/1NSESFo

David Karlin gave Ma a five-star review on Bachtrack:

One man. Four strings. Thirty-six dance movements. Five thousand listeners, perfectly hushed, many of them having queued for hours and rushed to fill the promenade space of the Royal Albert Hall as soon as the ushers let them out of their starting blocks. Yo-Yo Ma’s late night Prom – a performance of all six of Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites – was an eagerly anticipated event and a giant undertaking. Many of the audience were cellists (two and half hours of unaccompanied cello is a tall order for anyone else) and the atmosphere in the hall was electric.

Alexandra Coghlan at The Arts Desk:

This humility serves Ma well in music that holds a mirror up to any performer, exposing affectation or excess just as clearly as coldness or humourlessness. His Bach is intimate but not introverted, free and improvisatory in spirit but meticulously prepared and understood. He began as he meant to go on, with a G major Prelude so casual and direct it was as though we were joining a conversation in mid-flow. It was the only possible start to a musical epic – just the right degree of bathos, reminding a crowd bedding down for a long evening of serious music of the wit and overflowing good humour also be found here.

John Allison at The Telegraph:

Post-concerto encores drawn from these suites are, of course, common at the Proms, but this was the festival’s first complete performance. The bucolic Prelude to the Suite No. 1 in G major signalled what was to come, a performance full of dynamic shading and carried on warm tone quivering with life. The solemnity with which he placed the low, phrase-ending notes in the Sarabande pointed towards the evening’s more profound moments, several of them encountered in the tragic-sounding D minor suite, though even here he found wild abandon in the closing Gigue.

From George Hall’s review

During a magisterial survey of these complex, subtle compositions, Ma’s attention to detail was as notable as his grasp of the bigger picture. The playing was at times tender and introverted, at others bold and sonorous. Throughout, Ma held the measure of Bach’s organic, largely abstracted dance movements and unfolded them before the audience in a way that was intellectually satisfying and heartfelt.

Filed under: Bach, BBC Proms, Yo-Yo Ma

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