MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

San Francisco Opera’s 100th Anniversary Season

So it’s now official: San Francisco Opera will launch its centennial season with the world premiere of a new John Adams opera: Antony and Cleopatra, set to the composer’s own libretto culled from Shakespeare’s tragedy and various classical sources (Virgil, Plutarch, etc.). Music Director Eun Sun Kim will conduct the production directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer; the cast will be led by Julia Bullock and Gerald Finley as the lovers, with Paul Appleby, as the young Caesar, Octavius, Alfred Walker as Antony’s confidante Enobarbus, and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong as Octavia (Octavius’ sister and the wife of Antony).

But there’s much more that promises to make this an extraordinary season, with a return to eight mainstage offerings. SFO will present the local premiere of El último sueño de Frida y Diego by Gabriela Lena Frank, an SFO co-commission that will receive its first performances at San Diego Opera in October 2022 before coming to the War Memorial Opera House in June 2023.

There will be new SFO productions of La Traviata directed by Opera San José’s incoming general director Shawna Lucey, Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice featuring countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński in a new production by Matthew Ozawa, and Madame Butterfly directed by Amon Miyamoto and starring Karah Son and Michael Fabiano.

Two operas that received their American premieres in the 1950s are also being featured: Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites and the Richard Strauss masterpiece Die Frau ohne Schatten in a David Hockney production. Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is also part of the lineup, in the Bay Area premiere of the Robert Carsen production. On 16 June 2023, there will additionally be a gala 100th Anniversary Concert.

Complete press release here.

Bookmark sfopera.com/100 for the latest news and updates.

Filed under: John Adams, music news, San Francisco Opera, Uncategorized

And Still More on Dausgaard and the Seattle Symphony…

The first actual in-depth reporting on the disaster that has befallen the Seattle Symphony with Thomas Dausgaard’s sudden departure has just been published at Post Alley.

The formidable Doug McLennan brings powerful journalistic chops to a dismayingly complex story that appears to involve a toxic work environment. Many questions are left unanswered — not least because of the stonewalling he reports, which itself would seem to reinforce the picture painted of an institution out of balance.

I would also add that this story fails to give proper credit to Dausgaard’s predecessor, Ludovic Morlot. He played an undeniably important role in developing the orchestra’s current level of artistic excellence.

I rather like the use of “repotia” here — the same rhetorical device Shakespeare uses in “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…”: “Again though, when a new leader comes in, culture inevitably changes, and there’s almost always turnover among staff.”

So sad that the fallout from all of this will inevitably affect these amazing musicians for some time to come — just as we’re coming out of the pandemic…

Filed under: music news, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Strained Relations

in happier days…

After the bombshell that dropped on Friday, we hear a response from Thomas Dausgaard via Javier Herndández’s report in The New York Times on the Thomas Dausgaard-Seattle Symphony breakup: “I felt personally not safe,” Dausgaard said, providing few specifics as he offered his first public comments on his abrupt resignation, which the orchestra announced on Friday. “I felt threatened.”

According to Hernández’s report: “Dausgaard said he felt the culture of the organization shifted and became ‘ruled by fear.’ At one point, he said, an employee of the orchestra was pressured to make negative comments about him to the administration. (The symphony denies the accusation.)”

The irony is that, as far as I could tell, Dausgaard and the musicians still had an impressive chemistry together, even after the long absence due to visa restrictions and whatever else might have been responsible — as I noted in what turns out, in retrospect, to have been a de facto farewell concert.

The pandemic obviously exacerbated tensions that seem to have already been simmering, as Hernández points out. What a distressing turn of events — just when SSO was playing at such a high level. Along with Dausgaard and Jaap van Zweden, who are some other major classical music figures who have so radically reassessed their career commitments?

NYT story

Filed under: music news, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Thomas Dausgaard Steps Down as Seattle Symphony’s Music Director

This bombshell has just arrived: Thomas Dausgaard is resigning from his position as Seattle Symphony’s music director. Here’s the official press release, which leaves many questions unanswered:

SEATTLE, WA – The Seattle Symphony honors Thomas Dausgaard, whose defining 12-year partnership alongside the Symphony comes to a close with the announcement today of his decision to step away from his role as its Music Director, ahead of his originally planned final season in 2022/2023. Dausgaard, who appeared regularly as a guest conductor since 2010 and became Principal Guest Conductor in 2014, began his tenure as Music Director of the Seattle Symphony in 2019. Dausgaard’s collaboration with the Symphony for over a decade has earned widespread acclaim, marked by innovative programming, championing of music by composers of today and Grammy-nominated recordings.



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Filed under: music news, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

John Harbison Reflects on His Retirement

The eminent American composer John Harbison, who turns 83 on 20 December, is retiring from his life-long career on the faculty at MIT. The latest edition of his newsletter offers these reflections:

Arriving reluctantly but alertly at my last day of teaching at MIT, I remember two pieces of advice from the first week, in 1969. From a composer-friend, about the large Introduction to Music lecture: “Don’t be afraid to say what you love.” And from our Director of Music, Klaus Liepmann, as he escorted me down the endless corridor: “We teach our courses as if they are equal in the student’s learning experience to physics. We have poor facilities, we have  large ambition, and a new building is on the way.”

Well, in the last instance he was premature, but his vision for what was then a small enterprise was relentlessly bold and demanding.   I had come from my first teaching experience in a quite different environment, Reed College, in Portland Oregon, 1968, on the west coast, many student occupations of the administration building, intense teach-ins and demonstrations, no grades given, radically informal behavior and attire, very inquisitive students likely to go on break for a few years. 

I returned to the Boston area to begin two jobs, teaching at MIT (new concepts: drop dates, midterms, grades) and conducting the Cantata Singers (in my previous Boston time I had conducted frequently, but only as a guest—this was a full-time Music Directorship). Like many composers, it took a while to find a way to make beginning courses in Harmony and Counterpoint express the daily happiness I found working with pitches and rhythms.  

But within a year or so I got a fortunate break when our music historian Robert Freeman left to become Director of the Eastman School.  Suddenly we needed coverage in Schütz, Schein, and Bach, and my performance and teaching worlds linked up.  In recent years I have heard from long-ago students thanking me for the “gift” of Schütz, my abiding passion of those years. 

There have been, in a half century, so many episodes that remain very fresh, it is hard to choose. But the invitation from Marcus Thompson to join the coaching force was the major crossing point.  I owe much to the students with whom I collaborated as we studied and performed with in two complete performances of Bach’s Musical Offering.  I will never forget the Pierrot Lunaire, staged, in an English translation by the staff-member singer, with one of the performers playing viola for the first time!  Or the two mountings of the Domenico Scarlatti Stabat Mater for ten solo singers and continuo group of four, an un-conducted half hour with about fifteen tricky tempo changes.

For at least fifteen years, Jean Rife and I coached—alternately and sometimes together—a self-recruiting group of madrigal singers (probably in that period the only such group in Boston). Finding their own replacements, and generating consistent initiative and enthusiasm, this cohort performed, over a couple of years, the entire Schütz Italian madrigals, the complete sixth book of Monteverdi madrigals, an entire Gesualdo concert (Jean took on that one), and Byrd’s giant motet Infelix Ego, performed in services both at MIT and at Emmanuel Church.  (This group of singers was characteristically half ROTC students, who shipped out to dangerous places after leaving MIT, part of their preparation some of music’s most beautiful polyphony!) 

My last phase at MIT was a change of scene I owe to Fred Harris, with whom many of us have experienced all kinds of fresh excursions. Fred invited me over to Jazz, where I have spent the last decade. It was fun, and challenging, to write for the first edition of Vocal Jazz Ensemble twenty-some arrangements of standard American Songs, and then later to switch to the Emerson Jazz Players, doing their own composing, their personnel a concentration of some of our most gifted musicians.

We are all in contact with our colleagues at other institutions, and I am sure many of us have noticed that it is not always easy for a group of artists to work and organize together. There are many special advantages to MIT.  We are not expected to perfectly resemble other schools.  We are in a school where making (temporarily?) useless things is part of a respected process.  We are here as artists or artist-scholars, with a growing understanding that our achievements might not “look like” scientific or engineering breakthroughs.  And we have achieved among ourselves a dialogue that along with its fragile moments maintains some resilience and imagination.  

Like my fellow retirees I will miss colleagues, students, the buildings, but I still hope some day to stagger into the New Building to witness, between fresh walls, the typical vigor of MIT Music and Theatre.
                            — JH

Filed under: John Harbison, music news

Christina Scheppelmann Makes the List

Congratulations to Seattle Opera’s Christina Scheppelmann for being ranked among Musical America’s Top 30 Professionals of the Year:

“In January 2020, when Seattle Opera announced its next season, it was the first to be programmed by the company’s new general director, Christina Scheppelmann. She had arrived eight months earlier as one of only a few women to lead a major opera company, but after the pandemic lockdown set in, the season might have been lost entirely if not for her determination. ‘I don’t like to stick my head in the sand,’ said Scheppelmann, previously artistic director of Barcelona’s Fundació del Gran Teatre del Liceu. ‘Doing nothing and waiting out the pandemic was not an option. I wanted to deliver the season we promised, and I saw an opportunity to get it done within public health restrictions we needed to follow.'”

Filed under: music news, Musical America, Seattle Opera

Shawna Lucey to Head Opera San José

Shawna Lucey; Photo Credit: Ken Howard

Shawna Lucey has been named the new General Director and CEO of Opera San José. Already in January 2022 she will take on the position recently vacated by Khori Dastoor, who is beginning her tenure as General Director and CEO of Houston Grand Opera in January as well.

From the OSJ press release:

Said Opera San José Board of Directors Chair Gillian Moran, “After conducting an extensive national search, we could not be more delighted in welcoming Shawna Lucey to launch our next chapter at Opera San José. When we began our search five months ago, we knew we were looking for a charismatic leader whose passion and vision would help us continue to grow and expand upon the incredible work and programs OSJ has to offer. Shawna more than fits the bill — her experience directing productions at America’s leading opera houses, her passion for infusing new resonance into classics, and her crystalline view of vibrant contemporary works will be enormous assets, propelling our company into a thrilling future.”

Lucey is familiar to Bay Area audiences primarily for her work with San Francisco Opera. Her legacy production of Tosca was chosen to launch the company’s 99th season in August of 2021.Lucey made her directorial debut with Opera San José in 2018 with La traviata, brilliantly staged with skill and imagination, and offering a compelling contemporary viewpoint. Her directorial work has been seen across the US, from The Metropolitan Opera to Dallas Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Santa Fe Opera, and many others. She also boasts an international reputation, staging works in Spain, Russia, and Germany, at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the Bolshoi Theater, and Schauspiel Hannover, among many others, and has assisted esteemed directors, including Stephen Lawless, Lee Blakeley, John Caird, Peter Schumann, and Francesca Zambello.

In addition to opera, Lucey steps outside the canon into theatre and musicals, staging works such as Gilbert & Sullivan’s rollicking The Pirates of Penzance, which BroadwayWorld lauded for its “contemporary flair, dousing the classic with a touch of modern Monty Python alongside Carol Burnett Show moments. A true contemporary comic delight faithful to the original Gilbert and Sullivan intent.” 

Originally from Houston, Texas, Lucey credits much of her directorial influences to Russia, where she lived and studied for five years. She spent years working with the world-famous Bread & Puppet Theatre as both a touring performer and staff member, and then 11 seasons with Santa Fe Opera, working her way from technical apprentice to stage director. She holds BAs in Theater and Italian from the University of Texas at Austin and received her MFA in Directing & Movement from the Boris Shchukin Theatre Institute of the Vakhtangov Theater in Moscow. Most recently residing in New York City, Lucey is currently enrolled in Columbia University’s Master of Science program for Non-Profit Management and has served as an adjunct professor in Speech and Theater at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, encouraging the next generation of artists while teaching courses on acting, design, stage management, and directing.

Lucey’s appointment as the fourth General Director in OSJ’s history will begin midway through the company’s critically acclaimed 38th season and long-awaited return to the California Theatre. She will be overseeing the upcoming productions of Bizet’s Carmen and Bernstein’s West Side Story, as well as the return of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition.

Said Opera San José Music Director and Principal Conductor Joseph Marcheso, who conducted her 2018 production of La traviata, “This is an exciting moment in our company’s history. The creativity and energy that Shawna brings to her work is incredibly inspiring, and I am very much looking forward to collaborating with her in the coming months and years. Her approach of exciting innovation, a healthy respect for tradition, and steadfast commitment to artistic excellence make her absolutely ideal for this post, and I think our audiences will be thrilled to see what she brings to our stage and to our whole community.”  

Opera San José is a flagship arts organization of Silicon Valley. Maintaining a resident company of artists, OSJ presents four mainstage productions annually in San Jose’s beautifully restored, magnificent California Theatre. It also regularly broadcasts fully produced productions from its state-of-the-art Heiman Digital Media Studio. Now in its 38th season, OSJ specializes in role debuts, serving as an artistic incubator for established and emerging artists and administrators, producing world- class operatic performances for diverse audiences throughout the Bay Area and around the globe. More information is available at www.operasj.org.

Filed under: music news, Opera San José

RIP Alvin Lucier (1931-2021)

Original 1969 recording of I Am Sitting in a Room here.

Filed under: Alvin Lucier, American music, music news

San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Bowes Center Opens

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) has opened its Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts Center, transforming the Civic Center. Yo-Yo Ma was on hand to inaugurate the performance hall with a recital.

On 12 February 2022, there will be an open house for the public, with tours and performances throughout the day.

Here’s the report I wrote for the New York Times in 2018 when SFCM announced a major gift funding the new project, located just south of San Francisco City Hall.

Filed under: music news, San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Some New Recommendations for November

Kate Soper, The Fragments of Parmenides

–From Kate Soper, the final revision of her metaphysical cabaret piece The Fragments of Parmenides (score is available here, audio here). Plus, Soper’s “telepathy installation manual” ClearVoice is out now in the latest issue of McSweeney’s Quarterly.  Order here (use the code “audioodyssey” for a 10% discount). 

–Meredith Monk’s latest evening-length work, Indra’s Net, inspired by the ancient Buddhist/Hindu legend of the same name, premieres in a concert version at Mills College on 12 and 13 November to both limited in-person audiences and online via livestream.

-world premiere recording of Yotam Haber’s Estro Poetico-armonico III, one of the winners of the 2020 Azrieli Music Prize: continues a long exploration into the music of Rome’s Jewish community, as discovered through the archival recordings of ethnomusicologist Leo Levi. The recording also includes Yitzhak Yedid‘s Kadosh Kadosh and Cursed, Keiko Devaux’s Arras and Dissidence by Pierre Mercure (arr. by Jonathan Monro); liner notes here.

FLOW, new studio album from the amazing clarinetist/composer Kinan Azmeh: after his award-winning album Uneven Sky with the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Azmeh returns with the NDR Bigband led by conductor/arranger Wolf Kerschek. “I was the Damascene in New York and the New Yorker in Damascus,” observes Azmeh. “I am now more interested in being the New Yorker in New York and the Damascene in Damascus…Both cities with all their contrasting qualities are intellectually stimulating to me. Places, people, nature, tragedies, and celebrations, all of these elements have found their way into the music I create. Being in a constant state of FLOW is now my new zone of comfort.”

–link to Abraham’s Land steaming site — an original musical by playwright Lauren Goldman Marshall and Pulitzer-nominated composer, Roger Ames, with additional music by David Nafissian and Paul Linnes, premiered to widespread acclaim at Kirkland Performance Center, Kirkland, WA, 15-18 July 2021

Filed under: music news

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