MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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

Mr. Hokanson at 100

Randolph Hokanson with pianist Judith Cohen - a day before he turned 100 (photo by Thomas May)

Randolph Hokanson with pianist Judith Cohen – a day before he turned 100 (photo by Thomas May)

Amid all the horrible news of late, it’s comforting to be able to cheer something unequivocally positive: today, 22 June 2015 – a day after the solstice – marks the 100th birthday of Mr. Randolph Hokanson.

And this living legend — a gifted concert pianist, teacher, composer, and writer — is still sharing his music with us. Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing him give a recital to an enthusiastic crowd of fans. Mr. Hokanson offered poetically insightful performances of excerpts from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (I’ll never forget his take on WTC I’s E-flat minor Prelude), a movement from the Italian Concerto, and some Chopin Preludes — and was joined by the violinist Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi for Mozart’s Violin Sonata in G, K. 379.

During his many years at the University of Washington, Mr. Hokanson taught and influenced generations of pianists and other musicians, and it was touching to see quite a few of these along with extended family in the audience on a glorious Sunday afternoon.

Here’s a profile I wrote about Mr. Hokanson back at the beginning of 2014:

“I’ve seen it all!” announces Randolph Hokanson before losing himself in a mischievous gale of laughter. With someone else, you might be tempted to indulge that as hyperbole. With Hokanson, who was born in 1915 in Bellingham, it’s tempting to take it literally.
This gifted pianist and teacher has witnessed almost a century of not just ceaseless but accelerating change: epochal shifts in technology, in education, in how music and the arts are valued.

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Filed under: anniversary, Bach, pianists

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