MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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

Patricia Kopatchinskaja in Lucerne

More musical revelations at Lucerne Festival: thrilling Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2 featuring Patricia Kopatchinskaja in an unimprovable program of Bartók and Haydn by Mahler Chamber Orchestra led by the impeccable François-Xaver Roth.
The Haydn (Symphonies 22 and 96) was sleek and proto-Modernist in Roth’s interpretation, overflowing in invention and brought to life by the exquisitely fine-tuned playing of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

The Bartók Second — nicely complemented by the Dance Suite — spurred all Kopatchinskaja has to give: from her feistiest, most earth-rooted playing to star-drunk lyricism.

And then there was a post-concert treat in the “Interval,” from Kopatchinskaja plus her parents (dad Viktor on cimbalom and mom Emilia playing violin), with Venezuelan double-bassist Johane Gonzales: incisive Kúrtag and wonderful folk music arrangements.

Last night brought out still another side of Kopatchinskaja’s all-embracing artistry, in a Late Night concert with the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra led by Matthias Pintscher.

It’s clear that the Moldovan soloist regards Ligeti’s Violin Concerto as one of the ultimate masterpieces of the repertoire. Hearing her play it, you feel this is the only music in the world that matters, a world within world of where the concept of  virtuosity itself is reimagined from the ground up.

Kopatchinskaja is the perfect violinist to advocate Ligeti’s wildly imaginative ideas, but also the formal ingenuity and, yes, melodic grace of this score. She also brought out the best from the incredibly gifted young Academy musicians. I can’t wait to hear the full ensemble shine in Monday’s all-Cerha concert.

The program also included fascinating performances of composer-in-residence Michel van der Aa’s Hysteresis for clarinet, ensemble, and tape, with Martin Adámek  as the soloist and Ligeti’s Piano Concerto, with pianist Dimitri Vassilakis.

Filed under: Bartók, Haydn, Ligeti, Lucerne Festival, violinists

Pablo Rus Broseta’s Big Night with Seattle Symphony

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Last night’s concert with Pablo Rus Broseta and soloist Yo-Yo Ma was a delightful confirmation that experiencing an orchestra in live performance can provide a high like no other. It doesn’t need to be a Mahlerian epic or a program of revolutionary breakthroughs — those offer up unique experiences of their own — but it does require the unwavering commitment of the musicians.

This was a modest-sized Seattle Symphony, as some of the players are now on duty in the pit for Seattle Opera’s about-to-open production of Hansel and Gretel. And the program of Bartók, early Mozart, and Haydn offered a straightforward menu. But nothing sounded rote, and the evident pleasure taken by the musicians proved to be infectious for the sold-out hall.

Drawing the large crowd, of course, was Yo-Yo Ma’s presence on the evening’s second half, but SSO Associate Conductor Pablo Rus Broseta led achieved some captivating results of his own from the podium. In the rapid succession of Romanian Folk Dances, — featuring excellent clarinet and flute solos — he elicited a touch of melancholy to spice Bartók’s vivid rhythms.

A pair of youthful Mozart symphonies followed: K. 201 in A major and a true rarity, K. 196 in D major (both from the end of the composer’s teenage years, in the mid-1770s). Rus Broseta approached these scores as if Mozart had just turned them in to fulfill an SSO commission. And it was possible to hear evidence of the young conductor’s experience with new music in the mindful focus on texture and balance.

If the opening movement of the A major symphony could have benefited from more-incisive attacks, Rus Broseta showed his sensitivity to Mozart’s spellbinding way of phrasing melody as well as to his expert comic timing. In his hands the spirited finale of K. 201  was made to sound exhilaratingly fresh, almost proto-Beethovenian. The strings played with superb ensemble.

And then Yo-Yo Ma emerged onstage with his glistening cello to give his first Seattle performance (as far as I’m aware) since last year’s memorable accounts of three of Bach’s Cello Suites and other fare at the University of Washington.

Haydn’s long-hidden-away C major Cello Concerto dates from when Mozart was still a young child (though already embarking on his first tour of Europe). Ma’s performance was a study in how to make a phrase and its subsequent repetitions rivet the attention.

While it’s hard not to thrill at the cellist’s technical mastery of intonation, articulation, rapid-fire scales — you name it —  Ma’s musical imagination is what really calls the shots, making whatever he plays so compelling. The finale in particular, with its sudden shifts in mood, became downright suspenseful.  From the podium Rus Broseta’s confident partnership ensured a lucid orchestral balance.

Ma offered a pair of encores: an elastic Prelude from the G major Cello Suite and Mark O’Connor’s poignant Appalachia Waltz (both in response to vociferous requests shouted from the audience). But with every bow he made his admiration of the orchestra and conductor clear, insisting that they share in the acclaim.

–(c)2016 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: Haydn, Mozart, review, Seattle Symphony

Happy Haydn Day

Here’s a symphony I’m delighting in at the moment:

Filed under: Haydn

Happy Earth Day

Since I’ve been on a Haydn kick, my thoughts turn musically to the two great oratorios from the end of his career: The Creation and The Seasons.

Filed under: Haydn

Happy April Fools’ Day

And, for good measure:

Filed under: fun, Haydn

Haydn Turns 283

In honor of Haydn, one of the greatest of the greats, who “may” have been born on this date in 1732, give or take a few days. For its 2015 Summer Festival, which focuses on the theme of “humor” (in the widest possible sense), the Lucerne Festival will open with a program pairing Haydn and Mahler (Bernard Haitink will conduct the Lucerne Festival Orchestra): specifically, Mahler 4 and Haydn’s Symphony in C, (“Il distratto,” aka “Der Zerstreute”), which originated as incidental music for the stage. I’m going to be listening closely to a lot of Haydn in the near future as I prepare program essays for the Festival.

Filed under: anniversary, Haydn, Lucerne Festival

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