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.


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

2021 George Enescu Festival

The 25th annual George Enescu Festival is now underway in the composer’s native Romania. This year’s edition, held between 28 August and 26 September 26, is presenting over 3,500 international and Romanian artists. Most of the performances take place in Bucharest, but some are planned for other cities around Romania.

Paavo Järvi conducted the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra in the opening night concert–Ensecu’s Romanian Rhapsody Op. 11, no. 2, the Sibelius Violin Concerto, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 on Saturday, with Hilary Hahn as the soloist. A complete listing of events programmed for this ambitious festival can be found here.

Filed under: George Enescu, music festivals, music news

Les Arts Florissants: Dans les Jardins de William Christie

Dans les Jardins de William Christie is the name of the annual festival presented by Les Arts Florissants in Thiré, France.

Running 22-29 August, this year’s edition featured a production of Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato to open and included early J.S. Bach cantatas as well as sacred and profane music by Gesualdo. It ends today with a “pasticcio” titled Tell me the truth about love and featuring Lea Desandre and Jakub Józef Orliński.

William Christie, founder and artistic director of Les Arts Florissants, presents their summer festival on the grounds of a late-16th-century manor house that he has restored in the village of Thiré in Vendée. Because this special edition needed to accommodate health regulations, the evening concerts have been given in the Colonnades, in the northern part of the garden, against an enchantingly illuminated backdrop.

The garden setting has also been used in lieu of the usual candlelight concerts in the church, while a series of short “Meditation” concerts that had been recorded earlier in the summer — as well as contributions from students of Juilliard’s Historical Performance program — appear online.

Les Arts Florissants’ YouTube channel gathers highlights of the summer streaming series, which are also available on LAF’s website.

Filed under: Les Arts Florissants, music festivals, music news

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

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, music festivals, Tippet Rise

Plagues and Passions: Lamentation Back before Bach at the Ravenna Festival


My first official review in quite some time — albeit of a live stream:

Quite by accident, early music groups and chamber ensembles have turned out to have a natural advantage during the current pandemic. Their compact size can more easily accommodate distancing requirements as presenters gingerly proceed to reintroduce public performances. Even more, Il Suonar Parlante pointedly homed in on the theme of plague itself for their choice of programme at the Ravenna Festival…


Filed under: early music, music festivals, Ravenna Festival, review

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

Opera at the 2019 Beijing Music Festival

Another installment in my reporting on the 2019 Beijing Music Festival. There was a strong emphasis on opera this year, which I looked at in this story for the January 2020 edition of Opera Now.

Filed under: music festivals, new music, opera

Lucerne Festival Teasers

You can get frequent glimpses of the happenings at this summer’s Lucerne Festival — where “Psyche” is the leitmotif theme for the programming — on their YouTube channel. Some recent samples:

–Andris Nelsons and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in the Brahms Third Symphony

–Barbara Hannigan

–Unsuk Chin

Filed under: conductors, music festivals

Nike Wagner on Talking Germany

Nike Wagner, the third of revolutionary director Wieland Wagner’s four children and the great-granddaughter of Richard, headed the Weimar Festival for a decade before being named new director of the Beethoven Fest Bonn.

Here’s an interview (in English) she recently gave host Peter Craven for Deutsche Welle’s Talking Germany program. Craven gets Nike to talk about what it was like growing up after 1945 as a Wagner, her relationship to the family (and especially her father), and its connections to Hitler.

There’s not very much about great-grandpa himself, though she attempts a capsule summary of the essence of Wagner’s genius. And Nike discusses some of her ideas about the Beethoven Festival, including the importance of dramaturgically thoughtful programming.

On his blog, Craven offers a few more glimpses of his guest:

Our initial encounter is very warm. She offers me a hand and, while I’m thinking that I like this lady, I’m also registering just how small her hand is, how thin her bones, and how frail and delicate she seems. It’s certainly a light frame, I reflect, to shoulder the heavyweight history of her family and the role it has for the better part of two centuries played here in Germany.

Eventually he gets Nike Wagner to share this:

“You know, everybody has a specific weight. I’m light. I love to jump, to run, to swim. And … what do you call it in English? … to hover. Not in a moral way. They always think I’m strict. I can be strict. I’m not a moralist: but any kind of injustice drives me mad. I change planes, trains, apartments. But I’m faithful. When I love a person, I love a person. And I love to go dancing. Waltzing. Discotheques. Well, not any more. Private parties these days. I love to move!”

As a descendant of Richard and Cosima Wagner, Nike is also the great-great-granddaughter of Franz Liszt. Here’s an interview (in German) on her planning while she was still heading the Weimar Festival:

Filed under: Beethoven, music festivals, Wagner

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