MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Poetry and Politics: Sir András Schiff Does Double Duty with Seattle Symphony

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Sir András Schiff © Nadia F. Romanini

Sir András Schiff began a remarkable weekend of music with his appearance as guest conductor of the Seattle Symphony. My review:

For a long time, Seattle audiences have made clear their admiration for the artistry of Sir András Schiff whenever he comes into town for solo recitals – including one occasion 17 years ago, when his Bösendorfer had an unfortunate encounter with black ice while being transported across the continent and a replacement had to be found at the last minute.

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Filed under: András Schiff, Bach, Bartók, Beethoven, review, Seattle Symphony

Revolution No. 9

I was considerably more optimistic when I wrote this two years ago. It’s going to be a while before I can attend a performance of the Ninth again.

MEMETERIA by Thomas May

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It was premiered almost two centuries ago. And Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 still feels as urgently needed today as ever.

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Filed under: Beethoven

Becoming the Light

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Composer John Luther Adams with conductor Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Seattle Symphony presents the world premiere “Become Desert” March 29 and 31. (Brandon Patoc )

And what a night: Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot have given the world premiere of Become Desert by the incomparable John Luther Adams.

My review for The Seattle Times here, where I was only able to offer a few hints of how extraordinarily original, enthralling, and transformative this music is.

Filed under: Beethoven, John Luther Adams, review, Seattle Symphony

A Rousing Reunion for Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic

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Esa-Pekka Salonen © Benjamin Suomela

Esa-Pekka Salonen’s return to Walt Disney Concert Hall highlighted his gifts as composer and conductor alike and underscored how an orchestra can sound genuinely 21st century.

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Filed under: Beethoven, Los Angeles Philharmonic, review, Salonen

Beethoven at 247

For Beethoven’s (conventionally celebrated) birthday, listening to one of my favorites:

Filed under: Beethoven

Contemplating End Times with the Emerson Quartet

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Emerson String Quartet Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

My review of the Emerson Quartet’s performance for the White Light Festival at Lincoln Center for Musical America (paywall):

NEW YORK—“Conclusions are the weak point of most authors,” George Eliot famously declared, “but some of the fault lies in the very nature of a conclusion, which is at best a negation.” That may hold true for fiction, but composers glory in the powerful statements they can make when a piece approaches the double bar line. And, in the case of certain composers, music written when their own lives are nearing the end possesses a special mystique.

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Filed under: Beethoven, Emerson String Quartet, Musical America, review, Shostakovich

Harmonium in Londinium

First night of the BBC Proms 2017! Tonight’s program includes a world premiere for the opener — Tom Coult’s St John’s Dance — Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the remarkable Igor Levit as soloist, and Harmonium by John Adams, with Edward Gardner on the podium. 

Harmonium is an early Adams work — his first major commission for San Francisco Symphony — and sets poetry by Emily Dickinson and John Donne. Adams recalls:

Harmonium was composed in 1980 in a small studio on the third floor of an old Victorian house in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Those of my friends who knew both the room and the piece of music were amused that a piece of such spaciousness should emerge from such cramped quarters.

Filed under: BBC Proms, Beethoven, John Adams

Playing Dangerously

I finally had my first live experience of Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Teodor Currentzis, who brought his Perm-based musicAeterna to Lucerne’s Easter Festival last night for the first of two programs: early Mozart and Beethoven Eroica.

It very well might have been a new music evening: that’s how unexpected and full of discoveries the performance was. Currentzis has become something of a cult figure, and it’s easy to see why. A friend compared him visually to Hoffmann’s Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler, with his spindly legs and tall, lanky figure. I wish I could have seen the expressions he was flashing, mirrored, I suspect, by his restlessly gesturing hands.

Currentzis seems to decide on the spur of the moment to fixate on a particular player or section, and then to stare them down, whip them up to further excitement, coax out a sudden swell or tamp it down to near inaudibility. No one knows when or where he’ll pounce: it’s all part of the electricity.

Mozart’s G minor Symphony K. 183 was full of shocks and epiphanies: the sort of thing we tend to privilege to the really big works like Eroica, but which are strewn about far and wide, and so unrecognized in so many other sources. I especially welcomed how Currentzis balances his spontaneous, red-hot, in-the-moment aura with carefully thought-through decisions (the articulation of the second theme reprise-time around, when it emanates a menacing despair;  tempo differentiation of the Minuet and the Trio).

Patricia Kopatchinskaja is a revelation, nothing less. The playing in her bare feet, the poses she strikes, the comic interplay with Currentzis: the things people like to focus on are just a part of her entire, fascinatingly refreshing outlook, and it’s rooted in brilliant insights about the source of invention, say, in the Mozart D major Violin Concerto (K. 218) she played.

Actually, Kopatchinskaja didn’t just  show up and “play” it, fulfill her contract, job done. It was such an unusual ratio of performance energy and creative expenditure to the Concerto’s part on the program.

It felt like an epic, and the audience seemed to learn far more than it had bargained for about what makes a concerto work, about how a soloist can interact with an ensemble of independent-minded players. Mozart’s folk song ploy in the finale became the key to Kopatchinskaja’s improvisational approach overall — the cadenzas she contributed wouldn’t have been out of place in Ligeti — and a bridge to her encores of Bartók and Enescu.

In their period-instrument Eroica, musicAeterna’s dangerous playing kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. I’ve never experienced in live performances of Beethoven’s Third such a powerful presence from the timpanist.  The impact of the drums in the Funeral March was at devastating as in Mahler’s Sixth finale.

A couple of wind players almost lost the reins in the finale when one clarinetist got so worked up he knocked a stand over– at first it looked like there might be a domino effect, just before a big solo for the oboe (so much a protagonist in this symphony!). Aside from an emanation of angst-waves — like watching a tightrope walker regaining balance — the music pushed ahead, and was the more intense for it.

 

Filed under: Beethoven, Lucerne Festival, Mozart, review

“More Light! More Light!” Morlot and the Seattle Symphony Tackle Beethoven’s Fifth

It would be interesting to know how many audience members comprising the very full house for this performance were hearing their first-ever live Beethoven Fifth. Even for aficionados, the encounter was unusual. Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony created a boldly original framework in which to present the Fifth Symphony, their account of which also marked the conclusion to a two-year cycle of the complete symphonies and piano concertos.

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Filed under: Bartók, Beethoven, review, Seattle Symphony

Chasing Victory with Beethoven’s Fifth at Seattle Symphony

My Seattle Times preview of this week’s Seattle Symphony program:

Three shorts and a long.

It’s the musical equivalent of E =mc 2 : on the surface, a deceptively simple formula that yields previously unimaginable results — including many Ludwig van Beethoven himself couldn’t have possibly foreseen. In World War II, the Allies equated the Fifth Symphony’s famous motto with the dot-dot-dot-dash denoting “V” in Morse code. The BBC regularly included this “V for Victory” message of hope in broadcasts to Nazi-occupied Europe.

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Filed under: Beethoven, Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Times

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