MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A Weekend at Tippet Rise

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Jeffrey Kahane playing the “Goldberg” Variations. Credit: photo is by Emily Rund, courtesy of Tippet Rise Art Center

My report for Musical America on my recent trip to the Tippet Rise Art Center for a weekend of chamber music, sculpture, and nature has now been posted. PDF version here: Tippet Rise-pdf-07.30.18_MusicalAmerica

FISHTAIL, Montana–Lots of music festivals beckon with the prospect of a temporary retreat from the mundane. Tippet Rise Art Center takes this to a remarkable extreme, thanks to its geography. Located on a 10,260-acre working ranch in rural south-central Montana, Tippet Rise requires nothing less than a pilgrimage just to take in one of the musical weekends of this year’s summer festival season, spread over eight weeks between July and September.

Filed under: Bach, John Luther Adams, Musical America, pianists, review, travel

Strange Loops and Golden Braids

Last night’s performance of The Musical Offering is a contender for the highlight of the four performances I attended during this summer’s festival presented by the Seattle Chamber Music Society.

Today, by coincidence, as the thema regium occupies my mind, marks the 278th anniversary of the death of J.S. Bach. The performers — violinists James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Richard O’Neill, and cellist Edward Arron (the newly reformulated James Ehnes Quartet); violinists Yura Lee and Erin Keefe; violist Che-Yen Chen; cellists Julie Albers and Ronald Thomas; flutist Christie Reside; and harpsichordist Byron Schenkman — sustained a very special atmosphere throughout.

It differed in fascinating ways from the usual SCMS mood, Bach’s intellectual virtuosity holding the capacity audience spellbound, but with the tragic undertone that is also part of this music ever-present. Such a rare pleasure.

A few observations from Douglas Hofstadter’s 1970s classic, Gödel, Escher, Bach:

“The Musical Offering” is a fugue of fugues, a Tangled Hierarchy like those of Escher and Gödel, an intellectual construction which reminds me, in ways I cannot express, of the beautiful many-voiced fugue of the human mind. And that is why in my book the three strands of Gödel, Escher, and Bach are woven into an Eternal Golden Braid.

In [the Canon per Tonos], Bach has given us our first example of the notion of Strange Loops. The “Strange Loop” phenomenon occurs whenever, by moving upwards (or downwards) through the levels of some hierarchical system, we unexpectedly find ourselves right back where we started. (Here, the system is that of musical keys.) … Implicit in the concept of Strange Loops is the concept of infinity, since what else is a loop but a way of representing an endless process in a finite way?

To give an idea of how extraordinary a six-part fugue is, in the entire Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach, containing forty-eight Preludes and Fugues, only two have as many as five parts, and nowhere is there a six-part fugue! One could probably liken the task of improvising a six-part fugue to the playing of sixty simultaneous blindfold games of chess, and winning them all. To improvise an eight-part fugue is really beyond human capability.

“Quaerendo invenietis” is my advice to the reader.

Meanwhile, the Boston Public Library has digitized and put online dozens of Escher’s prints here.

Filed under: Bach, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Bach Motets

 

This evening the Los Angeles Master Chorale performs the six Bach Motets, as  Associate Conductor Jenny Wong makes her solo conducting debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

 

Filed under: Bach, Los Angeles Master Chorale

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

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