MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Oxford Vaccine Tribute Concert

The Oxford Philharmonic  has filmed a tribute concert in recognition of the work by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca scientists on their new COVID-19 vaccine. The concert will be broadcast on the Oxford Philharmonic’s YouTube channel on Friday, 18 December at 6:30 PM GMT (1:30 PM EST), recorded in the city’s historic Sheldonian Theatre, and will stay online afterwards indefinitely.

The program features the world premiere of John Rutter’s Joseph’s Carol, written in tribute to the Oxford Vaccine Group, the Jenner Institute, and the RECOVERY team. The words, also by Rutter, recount the long and weary journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem before the birth of baby Jesus, echoing the program’s journey from struggle to hope. 

Bryn Terfel also joins the Orchestra and the Choir of Merton College, Oxford, in a program that ranges from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s You’ll Never Walk Alone (with Jette Parker Young Artist Alexandra Lowe) to Handel’s “Hallelujah” Chorus. Sir Bryn and the Orchestra are also joined in the hymn of comfort, Abide with Me, by chorister Alexander Olleson of Christ Church Cathedral Choir—winner of the BBC Young Chorister of the Year 2020. Joining the Orchestra from Russia and Germany respectively, world-renowned virtuoso violinists Maxim Vengerov (performing the Adagio from Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001) and Anne-Sophie Mutter offer their own special tributes to the program.

“I am delighted to have been invited to contribute to this celebration, which expresses in music the gratitude we all feel in our hearts,” says John Rutter. “As always, music goes beyond words.”

Marios Papadopoulos, Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director, remarks:
“We are extremely grateful to the researchers, medical staff and volunteers based at the University of Oxford for their tireless work in the search for treatment and a vaccine for COVID-19. As the Orchestra in Residence at the University, we offer this concert in celebration of their recently announced achievements and are thrilled to be joined in our message of thanks by a stellar line-up of classical musicians with whom we have worked with closely in the past.”

The concert, introduced by Classic FM presenter John Suchet, will be interspersed with footage from the lab and trials of the treatment and vaccine process, as well as interviews with performers, researchers, and special messages from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Professor Louise Richardson, as well as from the Orchestra’s Royal Patron, HRH Princess Alexandra. 

Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology and project lead for the Oxford Vaccine Trial: “On behalf of the COVID-19 vaccine trial team, I would like to thank the Oxford Philharmonic for this creative approach to celebrating our work, and look forward to the performance which should provide some welcome respite from the difficulties we have all faced this year.” 

Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial, Professor Andrew Pollard: “We are delighted that the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra has decided to pay tribute to the remarkable and dedicated team of inspiring individuals, at the University and Hospital, who have worked tirelessly through the pandemic to assess the Oxford vaccine and show that it can protect people from the pandemic virus.We would also like to dedicate the moment to all those who came forward to take part in the trials during this uncertain time, to help in the assessment of the vaccine.” 

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, music news

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

Covid fan tutte

Very much enjoying this “update” from Finnish Opera of Mozart’s ingenious opera buffa, which has just opened the company’s season. With Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting and staging by Jussi Nikkilä, this abridged version of the original features a libretto by Minna Lindgren rewritten for today and referencing the coronavirus pandemic and reality shows.

Cast: FIORDILIGI Miina-Liisa Värelä, DORABELLA Johanna Rusanen, FERRANDO Tuomas Katajala, GUGLIELMO Waltteri Torikka, DESPINA Karita Mattila, DON ALFONSO Tommi Hakala, INTERFACE MANAGER Sanna-Kaisa Palo, MOUZART Ylermi Rajamaa, COVID VIRUS Natasha Lommi

Meanwhile, here’s a recent tribute to the amazing Karita Mattila, who plays Despina in this production.

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, directors, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mozart

Double Entendre

Martha Argerich and her friend violinist Renaud Capuçon are finding an accommodation to coronavirus spacing restrictions that is very generous: by playing the same program twice, back-to-back, as in tonight’s recital at Victoria Hall in Geneva.

The complete program: Beethoven/Sonata No. 8 in G major, Op. 30, no 3 and the Franck Violin Sonata.

I’d love to hear how their takes on César Franck’s great sonata compare between the 6.30 and 9pm concerts. This is one of the possible contenders Proust had in mind as his model for the Sonata for Piano and Violin by composer Vinteuil (no first name) in À la recherche du temps perdu — see “La Sonate pour piano et violon” de Vinteuil: Réflexion sur un intitulé inhabituel” by Jean-David Jumeau-Lafond in the Bulletin Marcel Proust:

Excerpt from Swann’s Way:

So Swann was not mistaken in believing that the phrase of the sonata did, really, exist. Human as it was from this point of view, it belonged, none the less, to an order of supernatural creatures whom we have never seen, but whom, in spite of that, we recognize and acclaim with rapture when some explorer of the unseen contrives to coax one forth, to bring it down from that divine world to which he has access to shine for a brief moment in the firmament of ours. This was what Vinteuil had done for the little phrase. Swann felt that the composer had been content (with the musical instruments at his disposal) to draw aside its veil, to make it visible, following and respecting its outlines with a hand so loving, so prudent, so delicate and so sure, that the sound altered at every moment, blunting itself to indicate a shadow, springing back into life when it must follow the curve of some more bold projection. And one proof that Swann was not mistaken when he believed in the real existence of this phrase, was that anyone with an ear at all delicate for music would at once have detected the imposture had Vinteuil, endowed with less power to see and to render its forms, sought to dissemble (by adding a line, here and there, of his own invention) the dimness of his vision or the feebleness of his hand.

The phrase had disappeared. Swann knew that it would come again at the end of the last movement, after a long passage which Mme. Verdurin’s pianist always ‘skipped.’ There were in this passage some admirable ideas which Swann had not distinguished on first hearing the sonata, and which he now perceived, as if they had, in the cloakroom of his memory, divested themselves of their uniform disguise of novelty. Swann listened to all the scattered themes which entered into the composition of the phrase, as its premises enter into the inevitable conclusion of a syllogism; he was assisting at the mystery of its birth. “Audacity,” he exclaimed to himself, “as inspired, perhaps, as a Lavoisier’s or an Ampere’s, the audacity of a Vinteuil making experiment, discovering the secret laws that govern an unknown force, driving across a region unexplored towards the one possible goal the invisible team in which he has placed his trust and which he never may discern!” How charming the dialogue which Swann now heard between piano and violin, at the beginning of the last passage. The suppression of human speech, so far from letting fancy reign there uncontrolled (as one might have thought), had eliminated it altogether. Never was spoken language of such inflexible necessity, never had it known questions so pertinent, such obvious replies. At first the piano complained alone, like a bird deserted by its mate; the violin heard and answered it, as from a neighbouring tree. It was as at the first beginning of the world, as if there were not yet but these twain upon the earth, or rather in this world closed against all the rest, so fashioned by the logic of its creator that in it there should never be any but themselves; the world of this sonata….

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, Martha Argerich, music news, Renaud Capuçon

Tippet Rise & Friends at Home

On Thursday, 16 July, Tippet Rise launches its monthly streaming series, Tippet Rise & Friends at Home, with a concert featuring pianist Behzod Abduraimov in a program of works by Liszt, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev.

I was able to visit Tippet Rise over the last two summers. Its unique landscape makes an indelible impression that can’t be replicated digitally, but a short film titled Tippet Rise from the Sky (a collaboration with the drone master Blastr) will be included with the stream and should at least suggest something of the flavor of this 12,000-acre art center in Montana. The series will be available on the Tippet Rise website at tippetrise.org/virtual-events.

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, music festivals, Tippet Rise

Interview with Olga Neuwirth

Here’s a new interview with Olga Neuwirth conducted by Boulez Saal’s Philipp Brieler, discussing Pierre Boulez and Neuwirth’s new piece Naufraghi del mondo que hanno ancora un cuore — one of the new works premiered on Saturday’s program. The entire Festival of New Music: Distance/Intimacy is being streamed live and then archived for 30 days. You can find this program here (Neuwirth’s piece begins at 55:00).

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, new music, Olga Neuwirth, Pierre Boulez, Pierre Boulez Saal

A Virtual Festival of Chamber Music


[clip from the earlier incarnation of the James Ehnes Quartet, which launches Seattle’s Virtual Summer Festival this week]

The Seattle Chamber Music Society launches its Virtual Summer Festival this evening. This isn’t just a visit to the archives but a 12-concert series of all brand-new live performances that will be taped before being released to the public as streams.

The concerts will be made available on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule at 7pm PST. These will be “on-demand”: in other words, you won’t have to view them at the specific streaming time but can access all concerts for which you have purchased a pass through 10 August 2020 — as many times as you like.

This is an experiment and a risk. How many will pay for internet performances, as opposed to free streams? Each concert costs $15, or you can purchase a pass to all 12 programs for $125. For the first time, SCMS’s Chamber Festival is thus available to anyone anywhere with internet access, and performances cannot be “sold out.”

I wrote about the planning that went into this approach for the Seattle Times.

Artistic Director James Ehnes and his quartet will perform part two of their complete Beethoven quartet cycle in the three concerts on offer this week. This continues and concludes the journey they began in January — under normal circumstances — at the shorter Winter Festival.

Meanwhile, Ehnes put his quarantine time to use at his home in Florida by recording the solo partitas and sonatas of J.S. Bach and the corresponding Ysaÿe sonatas. He will be releasing these in a series, starting here.

Filed under: Beethoven, chamber music, COVID-19 Era, festivals, James Ehnes, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Life Is Live

One sign of hope at least in the music world with regard to live performance: Lucerne Festival, after having to cancel its meticulously planned Summer Festival, has announced a short festival of 10 days that will take its place. Unlike the United States, Switzerland has a functioning government that has actually taken the coronavirus pandemic seriously and is thus in a position to start carefully relaxing restrictions on audience gatherings.

Titled Life Is Live, the short festival includes Martha Argerich and Herbert Blomstedt with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in the opening concerts, as well as a pair of recitals by Igor Levit, who continues his complete Beethoven sonata cycle.

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, Lucerne Festival, music festivals, music news

Taiwan Philharmonic To Resume Concerts

More green shoots: on Sunday 24 May 2020, the Taiwan Philharmonic (aka National Symphony Orchestra) will begin performing live again in the first of a series of three concerts (to continue on 30 May and 12 June) at Taiwan’s National Theater and Concert Hall.

These three concerts will be live-streamed to a global audience on this YouTube channel. For the first concert — scheduled to begin on Sunday at 19:30 Taiwan time (12:30 CET/7:30 EDT) — music director Shao-Chia Lü will conduct a program of Dvořák/Serenade in D minor, Tchaikovsky/Serenade for Strings, and Tyzen Hsiao/Bang Chhun Hong (“Longing for the Spring Breeze”).

Taiwan has weathered the COVID pandemic especially well to date, without resorting to shutting businesses or implementing lockdowns. The hope is now to show a way back to being able to perform full-scale orchestral concerts again.

The government has allowed a live audience already for this first concert: a total of 500 in attendance, whose temperatures will be checked. Everyone will be required to wear masks, and other safety measures such as spaced seating will be followed. The orchestra envisions as many as 1,000 people who may be able to attend the upcoming concerts.

The performances will be archived afterward and available on the YouTube channel.

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, music news, Taiwan Philharmonic

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR