MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

San Francisco Opera Announces New Music Director

The big news from San Francisco Opera this afternoon: Eun Sun Kim, a native of South Korea, has been chosen as the fourth music director in the company’s history, effective August 21, 2021.

Of Maestro Kim’s SFO debut this past June conducting Dvořák’s Rusalka I wrote: “Holding it all together was the outstanding musical direction of Eun Sun Kim, who was at home not only with the score’s Wagnerian resonances but with Dvořák’s folk-inflected rhythmic energy, too. The orchestra’s vibrant responsiveness made Kim’s debut here a spectacular one for a company currently in search of a music director.”

Kim made the following statement:

From my very first moments at San Francisco Opera, I felt this was home. There was an unusual feeling of open collaboration across so many facets of the Company—a real sense of professional alchemy. I’m deeply honored to be joining the San Francisco Opera family, and helping to carry this incredible lineage forward.

From the press release:

Effective immediately, Ms. Kim is Music Director Designate, in which role she will participate in the planning of future seasons and in orchestral auditions. She will conduct the Company’s new production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” that will be a part of the opening weekend of the 2020–21 Season. Complete information about San Francisco Opera’s 2020–21 Season will be announced in January.

As music director, she will conduct up to four productions in each season of her initial five-year contract, in addition to conducting concerts, working with San Francisco Opera’s resident artist Adler Fellows and participating in the executive leadership of the organization…

Born in South Korea, 39-year-old Eun Sun Kim conducts frequently at major opera houses across Europe and is increasingly recognized in North America as an insightful interpreter of the operatic and symphonic repertoire. She made her U.S. debut in September 2017, leading a production of La Traviata with Houston Grand Opera, and she was subsequently named the company’s first principal guest conductor in 25 years. Last month, she made her Washington National Opera debut conducting The Magic Flute, and upcoming U.S. company debuts include productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and LA Opera. She returns to Houston Grand Opera in April for a production of Salome. In the concert hall, she has conducted the Cincinnati Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Milwaukee Symphony, and future performances include subscription concerts with the New York Philharmonic and Oregon, San Diego and Seattle symphonies.

Ms. Kim began her career in Europe, where she assisted Jesús López-Cobos at Madrid’s Teatro Real and Kirill Petrenko at Opéra National de Lyon, before making her own professional debut in 2012 conducting La Bohème at Frankfurt Opera.

Another important mentor to Ms. Kim was Daniel Barenboim, whom she met while working in Europe early in her career. After hearing Ms. Kim in rehearsals, Mr. Barenboim invited her to make her debut in 2015 at the Berlin State Opera, where he is General Music Director.

Among Ms. Kim’s future European engagements is her debut at the Vienna State Opera. She has previously conducted at companies including English National Opera, Opéra de Marseille, Opernhaus Zürich, Royal Danish Opera, Royal Swedish Opera and Teatro Real. She has been particularly active in Germany, where she maintains a close relationship not only with the Berlin State Opera, but also Frankfurt Opera. She has also appeared at the Bavarian State Opera, Cologne Opera, Semperoper Dresden and Stuttgart State Opera. Her international concert engagements have included performances with Beethoven Orchester Bonn, Calgary Philharmonic, Malmö Symphony, Orchestre de Paris, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Stuttgart Philharmonic, among others.

Ms. Kim studied composition and conducting in her hometown of Seoul, South Korea, before continuing her studies at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart (State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart), where she graduated with distinction. Directly after graduation, she was awarded the First Prize in the International Jesús López-Cobos Opera Conducting Competition at the Teatro Real.

Filed under: conductors, music news, San Francisco Opera

RIP Mariss Jansons (1943-2019)

The great Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons has died at his home in St. Petersburg. He was only 76. From his orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony:
“The news of the death of our chief conductor Mariss Jansons has filled us with deep dismay and sorrow. With his death, the music world loses one of its greatest artists. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have shared many unforgettable concerts with him over the past 17 years and treasure our close personal and artistic collaboration. The unrelenting demands he made on himself and his musicians, the treatment of his colleagues that was unfailingly full of respect, and the great dedication to music he demonstrated will forever be remembered. Mariss Jansons will occupy a place of honor in the history of our orchestra, and we will honor his memory and keep it alive.” (Orchestra Board of the BRSO)
“The news of Mariss Janson’s death fills me and indeed all those who got to know him with unfathomable sadness. As an individual and a musician alike, he made the lives of so many people richer. I will always be grateful to him for this.” (Nikolaus Pont, Manager BRSO)

Filed under: conductors, music news

Teodor Currentzis in North American Debut

Teodor Currentzis will make his North American debut with musicAeterna this week at The Shed in New York. On the program is Verdi’s Requiem, together with an experimental film by the late Jonas Merkas. I was asked to write a profile of Currentzis for Early Music America magazine.

Filed under: conductors, Early Music America, profile, Teodor Curentzis

Living Inside the Music: Teodor Currentzis and musicAeterna

Looking ahead to his American debut at The Shed in November, my profile of Teodor Currentzis for the fall issue of Early Music America magazine is now available.

Within a few moments of listening to a performance led by Teodor Currentzis — whether live or recorded — you realize something different is unfolding. Nothing sounds taken for granted. What you assumed to be familiar parameters of a well-known piece — tempo, dynamics, accentuation — are suddenly open to question, the music propelled by a spirit of fierce collective concentration….

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Filed under: conductors, early music, Early Music America, profile

Bernard Haitink Bids Adieu

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Tonight is the night: after farewell concerts in Amsterdam and London, Bernard Haitink will officially raise his baton for the last time when he conducts the Vienna Philharmonic is his very last concert at the 2019 Lucerne Festival. The concert has long been sold out.

Yesterday Haitink and his wife Patricia were the special guests at the vernissage launching the new book by Erich Singer and Peter Hagmann: Bernard Haitink: Dirigieren ist ein Rätsel. The maestro was visibly moved by the tributes to his life and legacy.

On tonight’s program, Haitink will conduct Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Emanuel Ax in the solo role. Could you imagine a more graceful exit from such a distinguished career?

Filed under: Anton Bruckner, Beethoven, Bernard Haitink, conductors, Lucerne Festival

A Bold New Season for Karina Canellakis

Karina_Canellakis_Conducts_BeethovenMy profile of Karina Canellakis for the Juilliard Journal has just been posted. Maestra Canellakis returns to her alma mater next month to conduct the Juilliard Orchestra in a program of Missy Mazzoli, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Richard Strauss.

In early summer, the first of several record-breaking heat waves scorched Western Europe just as Karina Canellakis was settling into her new home in Amsterdam…

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Filed under: conductors, Juilliard

Martin Fischer-Dieskau on the Art and Hard Work of a Misunderstood Profession

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Martin Fischer-Dieskau

I had a chance to speak with the conductor Martin Fischer-Dieskau, who takes a critical look at the hubris and mystification surrounding his profession:

For Martin Fischer-Dieskau, the two-year period since his last engagement in the USA feels like a remarkably long gap. The peripatetic maestro loves interacting with musicians and audiences around the world, so he’s excited by the prospect of returning to the New World to helm an all-Berlioz program at the Round Top Music Festival in Texas on 13 July.

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Filed under: Berlioz, conductors

Bernard Haitink Announces Retirement

Now it’s official: Bernard Haitink has announced that he will conduct his last concert on  September 2019 in Lucerne. His farewell: Bruckner’s Seventh (along with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Murray Perahia as the soloist).

Filed under: conductors, Lucerne Festival, music news

Jonathon Heyward’s Outstanding Seattle Symphony Debut

By the end of last night’s concert with Jonathon Heyward guest conducting the Seattle Symphony, I couldn’t help thinking of John Lennon’s wry understatement after a famous rooftop performance: “I hope we passed the audition!”

Could this really have only been Jonathon Heyward’s first engagement leading the Seattle band? The chemistry between them produced such subtle and winning results that it defies belief they haven’t been regular collaborators for years.

Even more, Heyward demonstrated a level of confidence and musical intelligence that belied his youth. The 26-year-old, who comes from Charleston, South Carolina, studied cello before turning to conducting in his teens and is currently finishing up a three-year residency as assistant conductor of The Hallé in Manchester. He was recently named Chief Conductor of Germany’s Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, where his tenure will begin in 2021. But word has already gotten out — no wonder this amazing talent is so highly sought after.

The program drew on multiple facets of Heyward’s strengths. He opened with a gripping introduction to the music of Hannah Kendall — another name you’ll want to remember, as she is deservedly gaining international recognition.** This marked the U.S. premiere of The Spark Catchers, a 10-minute piece that was first heard on a BBC Proms concert in 2017.

Born in London to first-generation immigrants from Guyana, Kendall has been making a name with some intriguing collaborative projects, such as her chamber opera The Knife of Dawn (2016), which pays homage to the real-life story of the Guyanese poet and political activist Martin Carter, received much acclaim.

Her sensitivity to poetic texts and dramatic flair are likewise evident in the purely orchestral The Spark Catchers, Kendall’s response to the poem of the same title by the British writer Lemn Sissay. The poem pays tribute to the women and adolescent girl workers who went on strike in 1888 to protest inhumane working conditions in a matchmaking factory in London’s East End.

Kendall’s score is wrought with great skill, making effective use of suspenseful pauses. Sections of menacingly coiled rhythms erupt with volatile energy, framing a central oasis that seems to float free, cheating time. Where many young composers are content to merely establish a vague atmosphere through evocative use of timbre, Kendall develops her ideas with rigor and imagination. Heyward intensified the score’s dramatic qualities and well-placed contrasts.

The young conductor took on a very different set of challenges with Haydn’s Symphony No. 98 in B-flat major — one of the set of 12 “London” symphonies, which Haydn introduced in 1792, near the end of the first of his two trips to the capital (just a few months after his friend Mozart’s death). Here, the orchestra shrank down to late classical size (I’m guessing Heyward positioned the strings according to the practice typically used with The Hallé, though I have not confirmed that.)

Heyward delighted the audience with his obvious sympathy for this composer’s humor but also for his impeccable logic. Ensemble passaged sparkled with wit and elan. Highlights were an especially affecting Adagio as well as the games of timing and syncopation in the brilliant finale.

The program’s second half shifted gears still again, with a downright thrilling, superbly shaped account of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Here was still an entirely different conception of the orchestra — the players cramming the Benaroya stage to meet the gargantuan demands of Holst’s score. Yet across all of the evening’s varying styles, Heyward showed an instinctive feeling for how to clarify musical architecture, always keeping the big picture in view. He inspired the orchestra to create vivid, fully dimensional sound worlds for each of Holst’s portraits, gently acknowledging the full auditorium’s insistent applause between them.

At the same time, Heyward tirelessly shaped the sound, encouraging subtle refinements and using expressive gestures to blend and adjust the mix. He understood that Holst’s dazzling score isn’t just about the brassy climaxes — wonderfully prepared for here — but also homed in on its varieties of mystery and awe. The latter became genuinely unworldly in the final “Neptune” section, as the female voices of the Seattle Symphony Chorale seeped in unseen.

**On Monday night at 7.30pm, Hannah Kendall will be on hand with SSO musicians to present some of her chamber works at Octave 9.

–review (c) 2019 Thomas May

Filed under: conductors, Haydn, new music, review, Seattle Symphony

Barbara Hannigan’s New York Conducting Debut

BarbaraHannigan_MusacchioIanniello

Here’s my story for the Julliard Journal on the phenomenal Barbara Hannigan:

Even as an internationally acclaimed soprano, Barbara Hannigan is unable to resist challenging herself to ever more-formidable accomplishments. In 2011 she made a bold leap to the podium, debuting as a conductor at the Châtelet in Paris with Stravinsky’s Renard.

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Filed under: Barbara Hannigan, conductors, Juilliard

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