MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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

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