MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Adams & Stravinsky with the LA Master Chorale

My essay for tonight’s program by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. On the menu are some of the great choruses from John Adams’s operas (with brand-new piano transcriptions) and one of his favorite works of all time, Stravinsky’s Les noces.

Filed under: essay, John Adams, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Stravinsky

Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin: A Sea Apart

1380x591_saariahoOn Friday, 1 December 2016, the Metropolitan Opera will premiere its new production of Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin. It will mark the first time since 1903 that the company will have presented an opera by a woman composer.

Here’s my essay for the Met’s Season book on this stunning creation by Kaija Saariaho:

Since its world premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2000, L’Amour de Loin has earned a place among the most acclaimed stage works of the 21st century. The opera won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Musical Composition in 2003 and has been performed in Paris, London, Santa Fe, Helsinki, Aspen, Darmstadt, and elsewhere. Yet it took years before Kaija Saariaho became convinced that opera could be a viable medium for what she wanted to express as a composer.

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Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, new music, Uncategorized

Women’ s Indelible Mark on Classical Music

saariahoMy December began with one of the most thrilling performance experiences in a very long time: the Met Opera premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de loin. Another highlight this year was Julia Bullock’s performance in the revised version of Saariaho’s La Passion de Simone at the Ojai Festival.

In honor of Saariaho, here’s a piece I wrote this past spring about women in music:

It took until 1920 for the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to be ratified, guaranteeing female citizens the right to vote. But almost 100 years later, the status quo in classical music still needs a whole lot of shaking up if women are to have any chance of fair representation.

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Filed under: essay, Saariaho, women composers

Akhnaten at Los Angeles Opera

Here’s a look at Los Angeles Opera’s production of Akhnaten by Philip Glass, which was a big hit at ENO this past spring and which opens in LA tomorrow.  From my essay for the LA Opera program:

Numbers, chanted in hypnotic patterns, set the stage for Philip Glass’s first opera, Einstein on the Beach, and the very idea of numbers underlies the revolution depicted in his third, Akhnaten: the monotheistic revolution instigated by the opera’s pharaoh-protagonist, who fatefully attempts to replace ancient Egypt’s traditional polytheistic order with the one god Aten.

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Filed under: essay, Los Angeles Opera, Philip Glass

New from Los Angeles Master Chorale and Peter Sellars

At the end of the month the Los Angeles Master Chorale and artistic director Grant Gershon will open their season with a brand-new staging by Peter Sellars of Lagrime di San Pietro. This is the cycle of “spiritual madrigals”Orlando di Lasso composed at the very end of his life in 1594. Here’s my essay for the program:

A SAINT’S REMORSE: LASSO’S HIGH RENAISSANCE MASTERPIECE

What’s the correct way to refer to one of the most extraordinary musical minds in history: Orlande/Orlando/Roland de Lassus/di Lasso? There’s a Franco-Flemish form and an Italianized one; sometimes the two get mixed together. There’s even a Latin option intended to standardize the situation. The very profusion of variants points to the internationalism and cross-pollination across borders that marked the era of the High Renaissance in Europe.

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Filed under: choral music, directors, essay, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Miller Theatre’s Salute to Steve Reich

Tomorrow’s sold-out concert at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre opens the season with a focus on Steve Reich.

The program includes two somewhat lesser-known works, both variations: Daniel Variations and You Are (Variations).  Here is the program essay I wrote for the Miller Theatre:

“The function of music is to refresh the spirit and stimulate the mind.” Alluding to J.S. Bach’s title page to the third part of his Clavierübung, Steve Reich once contributed this response to a question about the function of contemporary music.

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Filed under: essay, Steve Reich, Uncategorized

Verdi at His Most Ambitious

My essay for San Francisco Opera’s program: Don Carlo, part of the final trio of operas in David Gockley’s farewell season:

“Don Carlos has really thrilled him. I think that this drama, instinct as it is with real passion, is just what he needs,” reported Léon Escudier, Verdi’s French publisher, after a trip to visit the composer in 1865.

He was sounding Verdi out on some possible topics for a fresh commission from the Paris Opéra. Another idea that aroused Verdi’s interest was King Lear—a project he had long hoped to realize—but Verdi opted for Don Carlos, a historical tragedy by Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805), as more suitable for treatment in the French grand opera style.

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Filed under: essay, San Francisco Opera, Verdi

Piatigorsky International Cello Festival

May22_LunchConcert_NarekHakhnazaryan_01_crDanielAnderson_Full

Narek Hakhnazaryan in recital; photo by Daniel Anderson

Here’s my report for Musical America on the recently concluded second edition of the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival held in Los Angeles (behind a paywall):

LOS ANGELES—“Of all the titles applied to me, I like ‘teacher’ best of all,” the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky once said. And of the many angles that might be used to describe the festival devoted to his instrument and named in his honor, the most salient is a passion for sharing knowledge — not just musical knowledge, but the wisdom gathered from a life devoted to performance. More than anything else, the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, which took place in Los Angeles between May 13 and 22, became an ode to omnivorous curiosity as the lifeblood of genuine musicianship.

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Filed under: cello, essay, Musical America, review

Opera Thrillers and Chillers

After recently covering a  powerful Flying Dutchman production and the world premiere of The Shining, a new opera by Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell based on the Stephen King novel, I decided to look a little more into the intersection of opera and ghost stories.

Here’s my new piece for Rhapsody. It’s a fascinating but enormous topic. I focused on the early German Romantic lineage, without even broaching the enormous popularity of Walter Scott-inspired Gothic opera (Lucia, etc.). Debussy’s Poe fixation, early Strauss/Hofmannsthal, Expressionism and other Modernist strains, and later manifestations are other topics I didn’t have space for here.

The Shining and Other Opera Thrillers and Chillers

Perched in the Colorado Rockies in the dead of winter, the Overlook Hotel is the setting for Stephen King’s 1977 breakthrough novel The Shining. It is during the off season at the vast resort that King’s fictional aspiring writer, Jack Torrance, takes up residence with his wife and son. He hopes to work on his latest opus in the peace and quiet, with minimal responsibilities as caretaker of the presumably emptied-out hotel to distract him.

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Filed under: essay, new opera, Rhapsody

Women’s Indelible Mark on Classical Music

MIRGA-WomenComposersThe 29-year-old Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla gives hope that more women will have influential roles in classical music.

Here’s my Rhapsody piece for International Women’s Day:

It took until 1920 for the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to be ratified, guaranteeing female citizens the right to vote. But almost 100 years later, the status quo in classical music still needs a whole lot of shaking up if women are to have any chance of fair representation.

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Filed under: essay, music news, Rhapsody

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