MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A Restorative Opening Night at Seattle Symphony, with French Accents

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Jan Lisiecki, Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony; image (c) Brandon Patoc

My review of this weekend’s opening night concert:

Mixing the familiar with some discoveries, the Seattle Symphony offered a pleasingly varied program to open its new season. The event also brought an element of reassurance by evoking welcome memories of a more stable era as former music director Ludovic Morlot reunited with the orchestra…

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Filed under: commissions, pianists, review, Seattle Symphony

Trailblazing Women

Julia Wolfe

Giancarlo Guerrero conducts the Nashville Symphony this week in a program devoted entirely to American women composers, including the world premiere of a major new choral-orchestral commission from Julia Wolfe titled Her Story. My program notes for the concert are available here (link on lower right).

Filed under: commissions, Julia Wolfe, music news, women composers

Music on the Strait: 2022 Finale Featuring Paul Chihara Commission

Tonight brings the finale concert of this summer’s Music on the Strait Festival. It features the world premiere of Paul Chihara‘s, Duo for Violin and Viola, which was commissioned by Music on the Strait. The concert begins at 7pm PST, with a pre-concert interview with the composer by Lisa Bergman starting at 6.15.

Long based in New York City, Chihara was born in Seattle in 1938 and spent three formative childhood years in the notorious internment camp in Minidoka, Idaho, where his family was among the 120,000 Japanese Americans forcibly “relocated” at ten camps throughout the US during the Second World War.

Regarding that experience, Chihara remarked in a recent interview with Diane Urbani de la Paz: “I don’t know how my parents emotionally survived this … we could have come back and found nothing.”

A  professor of music at New York University, Chihara has composed a vast body of work, ranging from  symphonies, concertos, ballets, and choral music to chamber pieces; he has also written scores for more than 90 films and TV series (Prince of the City, The Morning After, Crossing DelanceyChina Beach, and Noble House, among many others).

Music on the Strait’s Artistic Directors Richard O’Neill and James Garlick will give the inaugural performance of the new duo Chihara wrote especially for them. The composer explained to de la Paz that the new duo is a “fantasy” on a song he had written 40 years ago for his violinist wife, “Born to Be Together.” Also on the program is Felix Mendelssohn’s D minor Piano Trio and Edward Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor.

Although it is sold out, the concert will be live-streamed at the link above.

Musicians:

Kyu-Young Kim, violin
James Garlick, violin
Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, cello
Richard O’Neill, viola
George Li, piano

Paul Chihara Duo for Violin and Viola WORLD PREMIERE (2022)

Felix Mendelssohn Piano Trio No 1 in D minor, Op 49 (1839)

INTERMISSION

Edward Elgar Piano Quartet in A minor, Op 84 (1918)

Filed under: commissions, music news, Music on the Strait

In Pastoral Vastness, Grand Art Harmonizes With Music’s Intimacy at Tippet Rise

Composer Reena Esmail and cellist Arlen Hlusko

Here’s my report on Tippet Rise Art Center and its opening weekend for the 2022 season, which I wrote for Classical Voice North America:

FISHTAIL, Mont. — Set amid endlessly rolling hills, mesas, and grasslands that are framed by rugged mountains and the vast Montana sky, Tippet Rise Art Center beckons with a unique intersection of pristine nature and interdisciplinary artistic adventure. The surrounding landscape inevitably injects itself into each musical experience, while looming sculptural shapes retune the sounds of wind and distant thunder. The metaphors proliferate so abundantly here that you need to take care not to step on them — to adapt Brahms’ famous observation about a favorite summer idyll that stimulated his creativity…

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Filed under: Classical Voice North America, commissions, Reena Esmail, Schumann, Tippet Rise

A Double Portrait: Johannes Brahms & Jonathan Woody

Here’s an online concert well worth taking the time to enjoy. Byron Schenkman & Friends, presents A Double Portrait: Johannes Brahms & Jonathan Woody, a program that includes the world premiere of Jonathan Woody’s nor shape of today to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community (first performed on 22 May 2022).

Also the first commission by Byron Schenkman & Friends, Woody composed nor shape of today to a text by Raquel Salas Rivera, a queer Puerto Rican and Philadelphian of non-binary gender. His new work is a response or companion piece to Brahms’s Op. 91 songs for alto, viola, and piano.  

Jonathan Woodley has provided this commentary on his new work: “In composing this piece, I very much wanted to consider it a companion to Johannes Brahms’s Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano, op. 91. The Brahms songs deal with longing–the longing for stillness, for respite from the tormented mind, and in the case of the second Brahms song, Geistliches Wiegenlied (Sacred Lullaby), the longing of Mary to protect her child from the tribulations he eventually must face. In our twenty-first century existence, many individuals still experience a longing for a place to belong, and I was struck by the similarity between these Romantic sentiments and the experience of trans and non-binary individuals, who face relentless pressure to conform to outdated norms surrounding gender and identity in our supposedly modern world. The poet Raquel Salas Rivera writes in a deeply moving and eloquent way about these experiences, and his poetry struck me as perfectly situated to answer the Brahms songs on poems by Rückert and Geibel (a paraphrase of a poem originally in Spanish by Lope de Vega). Rivera writes in both English and Spanish, and the fluidity between the two languages was an inspiration to me in creating this song. I attempt to emulate Salas Rivera’s fluidity in gender and language by incorporating a fluidity in musical idiomatic expression; at times nor shape of today sounds like Romantic music, like Baroque music, and like music of the 21st century. While I don’t share the experience of those with trans and non-binary identities, I hoped to capture the sense of longing that so many human beings feel to belong, to be loved, and to be safe.”

Complete Program:

Intro 1:10 – Jonathan Woody: stone and steel 8:45 – Johannes Brahms: Sapphic Ode, Op. 94, no. 4 11:53 – Franz Schubert: Song of Old Age, D. 778 17:20 – Johannes Brahms: Intermezzo in A, Op. 118, no. 2 24:01 – Johannes Brahms: Lullaby, Op. 49, no. 4, for voice and piano 26:21 – Johannes Brahms: Two Songs for voice, viola, and piano 39:14 – Jonathan Woody: nor shape of today.

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, chamber music, commissions

Bryon Schenkman & Friends Premiere Jonathan Woody’s nor shape of today

Another Jonathan Woody composition: Nigra Sum Sed Formosa: A Fantasia on Microaggressions

For their end-of-season program, Byron Schenkman & Friends juxtapose a world premiere by composer and bass-baritone Jonathan Woody with 19th-century music by Maria Szymanowsk, Francisca Gonzaga, Clara Schumann, Joseph Joachim, and Johannes Brahms. The concert takes place Sunday, May 22, 2022, at Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, at Third and Union in downtown Seattle, beginning at 7:00  P.M.  (Prices range from $48 for Regular Price, $41 for Seniors, and $10 for Youth and Students with ID.

Woody’s nor shape of today, a BS&F commission, sets a text by Raquel Salas Rivera and was written, according to the composer, as “a companion to Johannes Brahms’s Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano, op. 91.” Woody writes: “In our 21st-century existence, many individuals still experience a longing for a place to belong, and I was struck by the similarity between these Romantic sentiments and the experience of trans and non-binary individuals, who face relentless pressure to conform to outdated norms surrounding gender and identity in our supposedly modern world…. I hoped to capture the sense of longing that so many human beings feel to belong, to be loved, and to be safe.”

The program will feature performances by soprano Hailey McAvoy, violist Andrew Gonzalez, and pianists Charles Enlow and Byron Schenkman. 

Complete Program:

Johannes Brahms: 16 Waltzes, op. 39, for piano
Maria Szymanowska: Polonaise in C (c.1820) for piano
Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga: Tango in F Minor “Sospiro” (c.1881) for piano
Jonathan Woody: nor shape of today for mezzo-soprano, viola, and piano
Clara Schumann: Romance in A Minor, op. 21, no. 1 for piano
Clara Schumann: Impromptu in E Major (c.1844) for piano
Joseph Joachim: Hebrew Melody in G Minor, op. 9, no. 1 for viola and piano
Johannes Brahms: Lullaby, op. 49, no. 4, for voice and piano
Johannes Brahms: Two Songs for alto, viola, and piano, op. 91

Tickets available here.

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, commissions, music news

Morlot Leads the Next Chapter in the Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Adventure

Ludovic Morlot reunites with the Seattle Symphony (image: Nick Klein)

For the second installment in the Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius cycle, emeritus conductor Ludovic Morlot rejoined the orchestra to lead a program centered around the Second Symphony. The occasion inspired some spectacular, edge-of-your-seat playing on Thursday night.

The concert started off with another in the series of commissions of new works from contemporary composers that find a way to “relate” to each of the Sibelius symphonies. In February, when the cycle launched with the Sibelius First (conducted by the talented Ruth Reinhardt), the pairing presented an intriguingly provocative new piece by Ellen Reid. The Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón faced the challenge of responding to what is, for many Sibelius fans, the best-loved of the seven symphonies. Color Shape Transmission, the result, offers an imaginatively fresh take on the phenomenon of acoustic space and the orchestra as a kind of mobile aural sculpture. Negrón spins her vast array of forces into a kaleidoscope of mysterious timbres, rapturously sustained clusters, and subtle echo and richochet effects. The impression of a ritual or procession brought to mind the mystery of the Second Symphony’s Andante, with its walking bass and swelling hymn.

I seem to recall that this program had originally been planned to include Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with Isabelle Faust. She was the soloist in Stravinsky’s contribution to the genre instead, but it was a wonderful match and proved captivating from first note to last. Faust displayed multiple personalities, all equally convincing, in Stravinsky’s one-of-a-kind take on the concerto idea: alternately cheeky, heart-breaking, whimsical, and invigorating. Morlot’s tenure with the SSO included some especially memorable encounters with Stravinsky, so it was gratifying to find him shedding light on a different aspect of the composer, tending so carefully to his piquant timbral combinations of woodwinds and soloist; concertmaster Noah Geller matched Faust’s ravishing tone in the duet between both violinists in the Capriccio finale.

But what left the most resounding impression was the epic sweep conveyed by the Second Symphony. In this account, Morlot navigated the SSO through Sibelius’s drastic transformations of landscape with a convincing sense of purpose. Sunlight shifting on the meadows, impending storms, glorious new vistas opened up — the sonic imagery flowed generously, but Morlot shaped its ebbs and flows with architectural understanding, aside from the occasional haze produced by a passing sonic imbalance. He homed in on Sibelius’s use of tension and release to thrilling effect.

In his excellent program notes, Christopher DeLaurenti points out that Sibelius had little use for the political purposes which his work seemed to serve, while at the same time hinting at the Second’s uncanny relevance for the terrible present moment. Its premiere in 1902, he writes, “was welcomed by the Finnish public as a missive of nationalist resilience against their Russian overlords.” He also quotes the composer’s friend and champion Robert Kajanus hailing the Second as “a broken-hearted protest against all the injustice that threatens at the present time to deprive the sun of its light and our flowers of their scent.” Grasping the music’s agonized heroism, this performance invested the final moments of the Second with cathartic grandeur.

The full program will be performed again on Saturday, 9 April, at 8pm. If you need a dose of hope, don’t miss it.

Filed under: commissions, Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius, Uncategorized

John Corigliano’s Triathlon at San Francisco Symphony

In his programs this weekend with San Francisco Symphony, guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero will lead the world premiere of Triathlon by John Corigliano. Now 84, the composer has contributed a major work to the saxophone repertoire in this concerto for the remarkable Tim McAllister. I had the privilege of writing the program note for this world premiere. The rest of the program presents music by Adolphus Hailstork, Antonio Estévez, and Astor Piazzolla.

program notes

Filed under: commissions, John Corigliano, program notes, San Francisco Symphony

Seattle Symphony Announces 2022-23 Season

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO) just announced the lineup for the 2022-23 season. It’s the first time since I’ve been following the SSO that this announcement comes without a music director in place. So the first thing that stands out is the long list of guest conductors: I count a total of 30 (!), including such luminaries as Marin Alsop, Tan Dun, and Osmo Vänskä, who will close out the season with Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony on 22 and 24 June. (Asher Fisch’s moving recent account of Das Lied von der Erde marked the first time Mahler resounded again in Benaroya Hall since the pandemic, and Morlot is set to conduct the Sixth next week. The Second is the only Mahler lined up for next season.)

No fewer than 13 are set to make their SSO debuts. And there will also be familiar faces: particularly Conductor Emeritus Ludovic Morlot, who has the honor of leading the opening night concert on 17 September along with two later programs.

As to new music, five commissioned works will be presented (including both SSO concerts and the Octave 9 chamber series), including a world premiere by 2022-23 artist-in-residence Angelique Poteat (scheduled for opening night) and new compositions by Freida Abtan, Enrico Chapela, Dai Fujikura, and
Abel Selaocoe. Other contemporary voices among the 25 living composers represented include Gabriella Smith, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Tan Dun, Gina Gillie, Nina Shekhar, Salina Fisher, Qigang Chen, Caroline Shaw, Shanyse Strickland, and Hannah Lash.

The Symphony No. 7 by Sibelius will be paired with a world premiere by Dai Fujikura in response to the Finn’s last symphony. But that’s the only Sibelius that figures on next season’s schedule. It appears that the Sibelius Cycle that had been intended as a highlight under former music director Thomas Dausgaard will be left incomplete. I haven’t seen any statement on the matter but will update as soon as I do. Which means that by the end of next season, as far as I understand it, SSO will have given Symphonies 1, 2, and 7, together with their corresponding paired commissions (music by Ellen Reid and Angélica Negrón for Symphonies 1 and 2, respectively) — with 3, 4, and 5 apparently falling by the wayside. Since each of these was to be accompanied by a newly commissioned work, I wonder what will become of the “missing” commissions….

There’s also a lot of love for Rachmaninoff, who only seems to increase in popularity each season. The Spring will bring a “Rachfest” devoted to the four piano concertos, featuring pianists Dominic Cheli, Rémi Geniet, and Albert Cano Smit, with Katharina Winkor conducting — all but Geniet making their SSO debuts. Plus, David Robertson will conduct the rarely heard Symphony No. 1 (the work whose fiasco premiere nearly led Rachmaninoff to abandon composing) and yet another program of the ubiquitous Piano Concerto No. 2 in January (with Nobuyuki Tsujii as the soloist and SSO newcomer Jirí Rožeň conducting). The Rachfest originally planned for spring 2020 was cancelled when the pandemic arrived, but 2023 has the added bonus of being the 150th anniversary year of the Russian composer’s birth.

I’m especially excited about the new works by Poteat and Fujikura, as well as the incredible Gabriella Smith’s Tidlewave Kitchen, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto with Nicholas Altstaedt, and the Seattle premiere of Tan Dun’s remarkable Buddha Passion (which I reviewed three years ago when Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic gave the U.S. premiere). And Octave 9 will present Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera and also welcome back cellist extraordinaire Seth Parker Woods for the world premiere of Freida Abtan’s My Heart is a River.

In fact, there’s a strong cello theme running through the programming, which includes a new work by Abel Selaocoe (featuring himself as the soloist) and Yue Bao conducting the Three Continents Cello Concerto by Nico Muhly, Sven Helbig, and Zhou Long, with the cellist Jan Vogler.

Link to the complete SSO season announcement press release here.

Filed under: commissions, music news, Seattle Symphony

Liederabend, Op. Worldwide (digital)

Tune in on Sunday 27 June 2021 at 8pm EST for a free livestream of 21c Liederabend, Op. Worldwide (digital)a new music project co-directed by Paola Prestini and Beth Morrison (also to be broadcast on WNET’s ALL ARTS).

21c Liederabend is the first program in a six-episode retrospective titled Contemplations from National Sawdust, celebrating the 5th anniversary of Brooklyn-based new music incubator National Sawdust.

The event is a contemporary take on the 19th-century Liederabend tradition and presents collaborative, multimedia vocal and instrumental compositions.  Op. Worldwide is the first to be exclusively presented as a broadcast/streaming event, featuring six world premieres that bring together a dozen talents from around the globe, in fields ranging from composition and poetry to fine arts and video. A conversation with soprano Renée Fleming on the future of the art form rounds out the program.

Of particular interest is Prestini’s new work Jarful of Bees, a multimedia, immersive short film created in collaboration with artists Natalie Frank and Erin Pollock, librettist Royce Vavrek, and mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti. The film weaves together Frank and Pollock’s animated painting, drawing, and claymation into a dreamlike visual landscape that elucidates Prestini’s vocal and electronic score and the ethereal voice of Gigliotti. 

Filed under: commissions, music news

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