MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A Week at the 2022 Bravo! Vail Music Festival

Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic at Bravo! Vail. (Photo by Tom Cohen for Bravo! Vail Music Festival)

This summer I was able to visit the Bravo! Vail Music Festival in the heart of Colorado during the New York Philharmonic’s residency. Here’s my report for Classical Voice North America:

VAIL, Colo. — More than one-and-a-half miles above sea level, there’s a special tang to the music. Or perhaps it’s a side-effect of the serene backdrop of wooded slopes, alpine flowers, and spectacular cloud formations. Whatever the reason, the fading A minor chord that closes the lid on Mahler’s Sixth Symphony reverberated with a peculiar blend of shell-shocked dread and exuberant release.

continue

Filed under: Bravo! Vail Music Festival, Mahler, music festivals, New York Philharmonic

Starting the Week at Bravo! Vail Music Festival

Photo (c) Jorge Gustavo Elias

Just some quick first impressions on my first trip to the Bravo!Vail Music Festival. It began Saturday with the second of four concerts of the New York Philharmonic‘s 2022 residency here. I admired Conrad Tao’s deeply personal and inventive account of Mozart’s G major Concerto K. 453 (including his own cadenzas) and a stirring Dvořák Seventh, all prefaced by Nina Shenkhar’s new “Lumina,” an exquisite study of light and shade.

The program was led by Jaap van Zweden, who returned last night with a knockout interpretation of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Sunday’s moody weather provided a fitting backdrop and also made me wonder whether we would have thunder underlining the hammer strokes — or even adding an extra one. But the skies behaved, and in any case all ears were intent on every gesture coming from the crowded Ford Amphitheater stage. Van Zweden’s laser focus drew remarkably tight, driven playing from the musicians but also left plenty of room for expressive and impactful solos. Mahler’s uncompromising symphonic juggernaut had its devastating effect but paradoxically left the audience exuberant, even overjoyed — an aftereffect of catharsis?

Filed under: Bravo! Vail Music Festival, Mahler, music festivals

Ruth Reinhardt and Asher Fisch Lead the Seattle Symphony

Ruth Reinhardt conducting Seattle Symphony in Bernstein’s Candide Overture during her tenure as an SOO Conducting Fellow (2017)

Last week’s subscription concerts launched Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Symphony cycle, which had been anticipated as a highlight of Thomas Dausgaard’s return since the pandemic. In the wake of the now-ex-music director’s sudden departure announced last month, a handful of replacement conductors has been enlisted to take over Dausgaard’s commitments for the rest of the season.

First up this month was Ruth Reinhardt, a remarkable conductor of the young generation. She had the formidable task of taking on the first program of the Sibelius cycle, in which the Finnish composer’s symphonies are being combined with newly commissioned compositions. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Ellen Reid responded to Sibelius’s First Symphony with a work titled TODAY AND TODAY AND TODAY AND TODAY AND TODAY AND TODAY AND TODAY AND TODAY AND TODAY AND TODAY. Lasting about a quarter-hour, it showed Reid as a composer who not only creates intriguing soundscapes but is able to illuminate them with psychologically resonant significance.

The Macbethian title (even more despairing than “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”) refers to the patterns of repetition and monotony endured during the pandemic. But her music stages various escapes — lyrical fantasias, utopian dreaming, even a down-to-earth party — from the stasis and repetition that threaten to drain each day of the joie de vivre. Reid uses the resources of the orchestra with great imagination and variety.

Moreover, as became clear in Reinhardt’s sweeping, panoramic vision of the Sibelius, Reid seems to have found a pandemic-era equivalent for the vision conveyed by Sibelius’s extraordinary debut symphony, which builds to a seeming lyrical breakthrough or even oasis, only to find it illusive. That connection certainly seemed apparent in Reinhardt’s overview of both works. Between them, we were treated to an exquisitely phrased, completely beguiling interpretation by Garrick Ohlsson of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, followed by thunderous, bell-like chords in his encore, the C-sharp minor Prelude.

What a gift to have Asher Fisch back in town after a long absence. The program he conducted on Thursday evening paired George Walker and Gustav Mahler, and the pairing works beautifully. Fisch infused Lyric for Strings with genuine warmth and underscored the fascinating entanglement of folk and modernist elements in the much later Folksongs for Orchestra, which dates from 1990. It continues to defy belief that this great American composer remains such a rarity in our concert life. How long is it going to take to change that?

Fisch was in his element with Das Lied von der Erde, and the Mahler-starved audience — the pandemic has been especially unkind to the composers who require enlarged orchestras — drank it up with rapt attention. I especially admired his flexible rhythms and feeling for Mahler’s Jugendstil ornamentation, but he also kept the emotional destination of the cycle clearly in view, illuminating the way to, and the journey within, the vast final song. Problems of balance left tenor Russell Thomas largely drowned out for stretches of the opening “Trinklied,” but his passionate delivery conveyed the flashes of bitter epiphany Mahler expresses.

Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor brought a rich, dark timbre to her three songs, carefully building the sense of inevitable leave-taking in “Der Abschied.” The expanded woodwind section was a special highlight, with eloquent contributions from flutist Demarre McGill and oboist Mary Lynch in particular. Fisch’s unpretentious, unfussy clarity allowed each detail to fall into place with memorable impact.

The program will be repeated on Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 4pm. It would be a shame to miss it.

Filed under: George Walker, Mahler, review, Seattle Symphony

George Walker at Seattle Symphony

The composer George Walker died last summer at 96. He was a close friend of the artist Frank Schramm, who documented his final years in photographs.
George Walker; image by Frank Schramm

Thinking of the brilliant composer George Walker today, who passed away almost four years ago at the age of 96. Tonight’s Seattle Symphony program pairs music by Walker with Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Walker will be represented by his Lyric for Strings and Folksongs for Orchestra.

On the podium, in another welcome return, is Asher Fisch, who has been absent far too long. He was principal guest conductor of Seattle Opera from 2007 to 2013.

Here’s the story I wrote about George Walker for the New York Times before the pandemic. Many thanks to Frank Schramm, whose marvelous photos were indispensable to this piece.

SEATTLE — Last fall, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery began to display, among its recent acquisitions, a photograph of the composer George Walker. It shows him close up, his right index finger and thumb bearing down on a pencil with the precision of a surgeon, at work on the manuscript score of his Sinfonia No. 5….

continue

Filed under: George Walker, Mahler, Seattle Symphony

Chailly Conducts Mahler 6 in Lucerne

A powerful program coming up tonight with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra:

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, Mahler

Happy Easter

Filed under: Claudio Abbado, holiday, Mahler

A Reich Premiere and Mahler Recharged at the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Suzanna-Malkki-2-1920x1280

It’s been a bracing week of the non-routine in Los Angeles: Philip Glass’s Satyagraha at LA Opera and, from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, John Cage’s Europeras 1 & 2 (with Yuval Sharon’s The Industry) and Susanna Mälkki’s first program of the season. Here’s my review of the Mälkki concert for Musical America:


LOS ANGELES–This past weekend’s program by the Los Angeles Philharmonic was both a newsworthy event and a rousing artistic triumph. Newsworthy because it offered the world premiere of the first composition Steve Reich has written for a full orchestra in more than three decades. And with Susanna Mälkki on the podium, the entire concert on Friday night (November 2) made the concept of a modern symphony orchestra itself feel vitally relevant. Juxtaposed against the pleasures of Reich’s exquisitely crafted piece, a familiar Mahler symphony–the Fifth–was transformed into a revelatory experience.

continue [paywall]

Filed under: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mahler, review, Steve Reich

Daniele Gatti Replacements at Lucerne Summer Festival

The replacement conductors for the two programs that the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra had originally scheduled at the 2018 Summer Festival in Lucerne with their former, now-ousted music director Daniele Gatti have been announced.

Manfred Honeck takes the reins for the 5 September concert; the very interesting lineup of Wagner, Berg, and Bruckner’s Third Symphony remains unchanged.

And on the evening after that, Bernard Haitink will replace Mahler’s Seventh (which was to have been paired with Webern with the Ninth Symphony. Given the reception of his Mahler Ninth last year in London, this should be one for the ages:

Other conductors extract more pathos (or self-pity, depending on one’s view of Mahler and the conductor involved) from the final Adagio, but few usher it towards its faltering close with more care and gentle humanity than Haitink did here. If the Ninth is the work through which Mahler confronted his mortality and came to terms with it, then in this performance it was expressed unswervingly.

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, Mahler, music news

Happy Birthday, Esa-Pekka Salonen!

Today the Maestro turns 60 years young.

Great conductor, great composer:

Filed under: anniversary, conductors, Mahler

Ending an Era with Mahler 6

Simon Rattle’s final concert with the Berlin Philharmonic: how fitting for our tragic time: streaming live from the Digital Concert Hall.

Filed under: Berlin Philharmonic, Mahler, Simon Rattle

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

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR