MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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

Not So Merrie Olde England: Tears of Dowland

Here’s a program essay I wrote for Boulez Saal in Berlin for this fantastic program of John Dowland, William Lawes, and John Jenkins by Laurence Dreyfus’s Ensemble Phantasm, with lutenist and theorbo player Elisabeth Kenny. Dreyfus has called Dowland’s seminal Lachrimae, or Seven Tears “one of the most sensuously tuneful hours of music ever written.”

Filed under: early music, John Dowland

Seattle Baroque Partners with Whim W’Him


Seattle Early Music is presenting a collaboration between Seattle Baroque Orchestra and Whim W’Him this weekend in a production of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater choreographed by Olivier Wevers and led by Alexander Weimann. Here’s my preview for Early Music America:

SEATTLE — It’s one of the best-loved scores in the literature — and has been so for nearly three centuries. Yet the Stabat Mater — the final work Giovanni Battista Pergolesi completed before his death in 1736 at the age of 26 — continues to allow for an extraordinary variety of interpretations. The emotional involvement and straightforward lyricism that make it so enduringly popular are precisely what have rendered Pergolesi’s setting suspect for those alarmed by such characteristics in sacred music.

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Filed under: choreography, early music

Hip To Be HIP

This was one of my favorite projects to research in 2018 — and one of many assignments that helped me to keep my sanity during a dark year.

MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Cracked Orlando Enraged Alcina (Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, mezzo-soprano) casts a curse on the love of Angelica (Sharon Harms, soprano) and Medoro (Brian Jeffers, tenor); from Jonathan Dawe’s Cracked Orlando: dramma per musica e fractals at Juilliard, 2017; photo by Nanette Melville

My story on the creative connections between early music performers and contemporary composers is the current cover story in Early Music America Magazine‘s fall 2018 issue:

When early and new music intersect, alliances are opening up a sense of fresh potential for both sides …

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Filed under: early music, new music

The Routes of Slavery Traces a Musical Journey of Resilience

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Performers in The Routes of Slavery, which comes to Seattle on Tuesday, Nov. 6. (Foundation Centre Internacional de Music Antiga)

My Seattle Times story on the upcoming Seattle performance of Jordi Savall’s The Routes of Slavery is now online:

Joined by a global array of musicians, music researcher and virtuoso Jordi Savall traces the relevant story of the African diaspora and its musical legacy across centuries and continents in The Routes of Slavery.

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Filed under: early music, Jordi Savall, Seattle Times

Hip To Be HIP

Cracked Orlando

Enraged Alcina (Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, mezzo-soprano) casts a curse on the love of Angelica (Sharon Harms, soprano) and Medoro (Brian Jeffers, tenor); from Jonathan Dawe’s Cracked Orlando: dramma per musica e fractals at Juilliard, 2017; photo by Nanette Melville

My story on the creative connections between early music performers and contemporary composers is the current cover story in Early Music America Magazine‘s fall 2018 issue:

When early and new music intersect, alliances are opening up a sense of fresh potential for both sides …

continue

Filed under: early music, feature, new music

Machaut and Marcel Pérès

This weekend, Cappella Romana is presenting performances of Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame under guest conductor Marcel Pérès, an early-music authority. Upset that I had to miss last night’s performance in Seattle. Two more follow this weekend (in Portland and Eugene, respectively).

For Cappella Romana, Marcel Pérès published this fascinating commentary on this milestone of Western music:

A far-reaching transformation took place. The mastery of numbers in the sphere of time gave men the impression that they had become something greater than mere cogs in a greater cosmic order. Thanks to the mathematical mastery of durations, music had become geometry of time.

With this new ability to conceive music outside of time, musicians began to regard themselves as creators, building structures that did not exist before their intervention in the sound material. This is probably why the 14th century gave rise to the gradual emergence of named composers.

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Filed under: Cappella Romana, early music, Machaut

Reactions to LA Master Chorale’s Lasso

img_5830The opening weekend of the new Los Angeles Master Chorale season was devoted to Orlando di Lasso’s late masterpiece Lagrime di San Pietro. I’m still working through the extraordinary effect the performance had on me — and I know I’m far from alone.

Overall, I was left with an experience I associate with late Beethoven and Parsifal. It was genuinely that special. I’m fascinated by the line of development in Peter Sellars’s work from his stagings of the Bach Passions through John Adams’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary (also with the Master Chorale) and Kaija Saariaho’s La Passion de Simone. And of course his work on Stravinsky. James F. Ingalls’s lighting design added a rich layer, yet another strand of counterpoint.

The rehearsals — a record total of 26 to bring this to the stage — were reportedly grueling: a combination of boot camp and spiritual retreat. And the incredible technical challenge of committing so much of this music along with the choreography and gestures was taken for granted. Not that this was an “effortless” performance — far from it, the strain and exhaustion entailed in bringing this music and its message to life added to the powerful impact.

Mark Swed’s review I found especially incisive:

Normally, we turn to death-invoking music for its transformative powers. The final great works of Beethoven (the late string quartets), Mozart (the unfinished Requiem) or Mahler (the Ninth Symphony’s probe of dying embers) help us transcend despair.  Di Lasso’s “Lagrime,” however, is by a deeply depressed composer in the days before meds, someone who only wants his misery to end. It did in 1594, three weeks after finishing the score.

[…]

“Lagrime” is a major accomplishment for the Master Chorale, which sang and acted brilliantly. It is also a major accomplishment for music history. The company hopes to keep this production alive, touring it, and if the music business chooses to honor the just, that will be a saint’s compensation.

Remarking on the austerity and challenge of Lagrime that make it an improbable choice for a season-opener, Richard S. Ginell gave this assessment: “[T]he Master Chorale sounded glorious — rich, accurate, seemingly unaffected by all of the physical contortions Sellars put them through, even when singing face-down on the stage muffled their voices.”

Filed under: early music, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Peter Sellars

Stile Antico’s Homage to Shakespeare

I happily recall the British early music vocal ensemble Stile Antico’s first visit to Seattle over four years ago. On 9 April they return, under the auspices of the Early Music Guild, for a program titled The Touches of Sweet Harmony:  The Musical World of William Shakespeare.

The ensemble describes their program as follows:

“To mark of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, Stile Antico performs a mouthwatering program of Elizabethan and Jacobean music. In addition to settings of words from Shakespeare’s plays, we encounter music written for the great events of his life or which explore some of the themes of his work. Completing this fascinating picture are Shakespeare-texted works by Huw Watkins and Nico Muhly, written especially for Stile Antico.”

Filed under: early music, Shakespeare

Musicall Humors

Filed under: early music

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