MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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Romantic sentiments and the experience of trans and non-binary individuals, who face relentless pressure to conform to outdated norms surrounding gender and identity in our supposedly modern world….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

The No One’s Rose at Stanford

Here’s my preview of a remarkable collaboration between American Modern Opera Company and the Philharmonia Baroque, reshaped by the pandemic interruption:

After nearly a year of postponement, Stanford Live prepares to present the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale‘s collaboration with the American Modern Opera Company. The No One’s Rose, a project created in a moment of prevailing uncertainty about the identity of art, uses the poetry of Holocaust survivor Paul Celan as a framework to reflect on creating art as a community in the face of overwhelming loss and despair…

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Filed under: commissions, new music, poetry

Beethoven Marathon with Yael Weiss

To mark the occasion, pianist Yael Weiss presents an all-day live marathon here, with guests from around the world, including conversations and performances of Beethoven and newly commissioned works written for the project 32 Bright Clouds: Beethoven Conversations Around the World.

PROGRAM

9am
Beethoven and the Global Aspiration for Peace:
Yael Weiss and the 32 Bright Clouds Project

10am
World Premiere:
A conversation with composer Alfred Wong from Hong Kong
and the world premiere performance of his piece Passion
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 23 “Appassionata”).

10:30am
The Moonlight Sonata and Social Justice:
A conversation with Indonesian composer Ananda Sukarlan
and performance of his piece No More Moonlight Over Jakarta
(connected to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 14 “Moonlight”).

11am
Beethoven in Myanmar:
A conversation with composer Ne Myo Aung,
a performance of his new piece Moha
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21 “Waldstein”)
and a discussion of the Burmese Sandaya piano style.

12pm
A Lullaby for Beethoven:
A conversation with Turkish composer Aslihan Keçebaşoğlu
and a performance of her piece Ninni
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 28 Op. 101).

1pm
African Rituals and Dedications:
A conversation with South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen
and a performance of his work
Isiko: An African Ritual for Ancestral Intercession
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 29 “Hammerklavier”)

2pm
Beethoven and a World Unheard:
A conversation with composer Sidney Boquiren from the Philippines
and a performance of his piece Unheard Voices
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 7 Op. 10 No. 3)

3pm
Painting Beethoven in Afghanistan:
A conversation with composer, calligrapher and painter
Milad Yousufi from Afghanistan
and a performance of his work Willow
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 8 “Pathetique”)

3:30pm
New from Guatemala:
A conversation with composer Xavier Beteta about his upcoming
new work for the 32 Bright Clouds project Noche Profunda
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 5 Op.10 no. 1)

4pm
Recordings of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, and a Bagatelles project:
A conversation with music writer, composer and critic Jed Distler
and performances of his Bagatelles

5pm
World Premiere:

A conversation with composer Bosba about music in Cambodia
and a world premiere performance of her work
Sovannaphum: Kosal’s Lament
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 11 Op. 22)

6pm
After Beethoven, from Iran:
A conversation with Iranian composer Aida Shirazi
and a performance of her piece Aprés
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 26 “Les Adieux”)

7pm
New from Colombia:
A conversation with composer Carolina Noguera-Palau about her upcoming
new work for the 32 Bright Clouds project, De Adoración Y Espanto
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 31, Op. 110)

7:30pm
Demonstrating for Peace:
A conversation with Venezuelan composer Adina Izarra
and a performance of her piece Arietta for the 150
(connected to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 Op. 111)

8pm
Closing remarks and Beethoven’s final piano Sonata no. 32 in c minor, Op. 111

Filed under: Beethoven, commissions, piano

Seth Parker Woods and Seattle Symphony Premiere Tyshawn Sorey’s For Roscoe Mitchell

Cellist Seth Parker Woods and the Seattle Symphony with David Robertson conducting; image (c) James Holt

I reviewed the world premiere of Tyshawn Sorey’s extraordinary new Seattle Symphony commission for Musical America. Here’s a longer version of the opening paragraphs (including some details that had to be cut for length):

Like an artfully spliced film sequence, the highlight of Seattle Symphony’s concert on November 19 seemed to bridge the painful months separating us from the pre-COVID-19 era. Tyshawn Sorey’s For Roscoe Mitchell for cello and orchestra transmitted all the excitement that comes with a “normal” world premiere of an important composition.

The account featuring Seth Parker Woods as the soloist and guest conductor David Robertson on the podium cast such a powerful and lasting spell that I occasionally forgot this was an online stream. Performing live in real time from the Benaroya concert hall, the musicians felt more present than is usually the case in the virtual medium.

The initial round of shutdowns in the spring had cheated us of hearing the piece as originally intended: in the context of a Beethoven festival juxtaposing several new commissions with a complete symphony cycle, which had been planned as last season’s culmination. Sorey’s new work is his first SSO commission and the final project envisioned by former vice president of artistic planning Elena Dubinets before her lamented departure from the organization. 

In September, SSO began a new online season, using its own streaming service, Seattle Symphony Live, as a platform to disseminate live performances from its home concert hall (sans audience). For Roscoe Mitchell barely escaped a second postponement. This concert was the last event allowed to proceed before new statewide mandates for Washington caused all remaining 2020 concerts to be canceled.  

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Filed under: commissions, Seattle Symphony, Seth Parker Woods, Tyshawn Sorey

Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow

On Saturday evening at 7:30pm ET, the Washington Chorus presents the world premiere of Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow, an innovative and timely work by Portland-based composer Damien Geter and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Bob Berg.

Commissioned by the Washington Chorus in response to stories of hope and the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on the Black community, Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow involves both a new score and a new film that was created as a collaboration between Geter and Berg.

The premiere will be streamed live on the Vimeo platform via TicketSpice and will thereafter be available via Vimeo+ on demand and other streaming services.

According to the ensemble’s website, this film-cantata “tells the story of one individual’s journey as he grapples with recovery from COVID-19: a journey from despair and hurt to redemption and hope” and features a score “influenced by Bach, modern music, and traditional spirituals.” Soprano Aundi Marie Moore will join the Washington Chorus as soloist, with Eugene Rogers conducting.

I wrote about Damien Geter in my cover story on “secular requiems” for the Summer 2020 issue of Chorus America’s Voice Magazine.

Filed under: African-American musicians, choral music, commissions, COVID-19 Era

Whispers of an Italian-Jewish Past Fill a Composer’s Music

Here’s a link to my latest story for the New York Times, which is about the extraordinary composer Yotam Haber. He is the recipient of the 2020 Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music — one of three biannual Azrieli Music Prizes. Haber’s new piece, Estro Poetico-armonico III, will receive its world premiere on 22 October at 8pm ET via free livestream on medici.tv and the Azrieli Facebook page.

Filed under: commissions, new music, New York Times

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