MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Aya Yoshida Wins the Zemlinsky Prize

The 27-year-old Japanese composer Aya Yoshida has won the 2019 Zemlinsky Prize for Composition, which has been presented to young composers from around the world since 1990 by the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).

Along with a cash award of $30,000, Yoshida will receive a major new orchestral commission for dance, to be given its world premiere by CCM’s Philharmonia Orchestra and Ballet in December 2020, which will also record the piece.

Aya Yoshida, a native of Kobe who is based in Amsterdam, was chosen for Double Face, a ten-minute orchestral piece. The Danish National Symphony Orchestra premiered the work in 2016.

From the press release:

The title [“Double Face”] is open to interpretation, but like
many of Yoshida’s pieces (e.g. “Polka dots,” “Tone on Tone Check,” “Pointed toe”), this work also has a fashion resonance. “Double face,” meaning reverse clothing, is a term commonly used in the rag-trade.

Second prize of $20,000 went to Tomasz Skweres, 34, a Polish composer living in Vienna, for his piece “über das farbige Licht der Doppelsterne…” Third prize of $10,000 was awarded to 24-year-old Joel Jäventausta, a Finnish composer based in London, for his piece “Cantus.”
More than 200 compositions were submitted for consideration before five finalists were shortlisted in September by an international panel of leading composers: Colin Matthews (London), Missy Mazzoli (New York/Chicago), Iris Ter Schiphorst (Vienna), and Carl Vine (Sydney). The shortlisted works were then submitted anonymously to a final judging panel, which included the Dean of CCM, Stanley E. Romanstein, and CCM Philharmonia Conductor, Mark Gibson.

Missy Mazzoli said Yoshida’s winning entry “showed true originality, combined with skillful orchestration and a well-balanced approach to form…This daring work really communicated a mini-world of fantastic orchestral colors.” Carl Vine praised it “as redolent with intriguing musical gestures and textures.” Colin Matthews said, “Aya Yoshida’s piece came out on top from a very impressive line-up” and noted “it was good to see the unanimity of choice between a panel of composers all with very different stylistic personalities.”

Expressing her gratitude, Aya Yoshida said: “After my opera in 2017, I have been somehow dreaming of composing for ballet in my 20s or 30s, so I am thankful, humble, surprised and really happy to have the opportunity. Music is a collection of movements; the texture of the sound itself and also the physical gestures of the musicians. I am looking forward to exploring the connections between ballet and music in my new piece for CCM Philharmonia Orchestra.”

Filed under: competitions, music news

San Francisco Opera Announces New Music Director

The big news from San Francisco Opera this afternoon: Eun Sun Kim, a native of South Korea, has been chosen as the fourth music director in the company’s history, effective August 21, 2021.

Of Maestro Kim’s SFO debut this past June conducting Dvořák’s Rusalka I wrote: “Holding it all together was the outstanding musical direction of Eun Sun Kim, who was at home not only with the score’s Wagnerian resonances but with Dvořák’s folk-inflected rhythmic energy, too. The orchestra’s vibrant responsiveness made Kim’s debut here a spectacular one for a company currently in search of a music director.”

Kim made the following statement:

From my very first moments at San Francisco Opera, I felt this was home. There was an unusual feeling of open collaboration across so many facets of the Company—a real sense of professional alchemy. I’m deeply honored to be joining the San Francisco Opera family, and helping to carry this incredible lineage forward.

From the press release:

Effective immediately, Ms. Kim is Music Director Designate, in which role she will participate in the planning of future seasons and in orchestral auditions. She will conduct the Company’s new production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” that will be a part of the opening weekend of the 2020–21 Season. Complete information about San Francisco Opera’s 2020–21 Season will be announced in January.

As music director, she will conduct up to four productions in each season of her initial five-year contract, in addition to conducting concerts, working with San Francisco Opera’s resident artist Adler Fellows and participating in the executive leadership of the organization…

Born in South Korea, 39-year-old Eun Sun Kim conducts frequently at major opera houses across Europe and is increasingly recognized in North America as an insightful interpreter of the operatic and symphonic repertoire. She made her U.S. debut in September 2017, leading a production of La Traviata with Houston Grand Opera, and she was subsequently named the company’s first principal guest conductor in 25 years. Last month, she made her Washington National Opera debut conducting The Magic Flute, and upcoming U.S. company debuts include productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and LA Opera. She returns to Houston Grand Opera in April for a production of Salome. In the concert hall, she has conducted the Cincinnati Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Milwaukee Symphony, and future performances include subscription concerts with the New York Philharmonic and Oregon, San Diego and Seattle symphonies.

Ms. Kim began her career in Europe, where she assisted Jesús López-Cobos at Madrid’s Teatro Real and Kirill Petrenko at Opéra National de Lyon, before making her own professional debut in 2012 conducting La Bohème at Frankfurt Opera.

Another important mentor to Ms. Kim was Daniel Barenboim, whom she met while working in Europe early in her career. After hearing Ms. Kim in rehearsals, Mr. Barenboim invited her to make her debut in 2015 at the Berlin State Opera, where he is General Music Director.

Among Ms. Kim’s future European engagements is her debut at the Vienna State Opera. She has previously conducted at companies including English National Opera, Opéra de Marseille, Opernhaus Zürich, Royal Danish Opera, Royal Swedish Opera and Teatro Real. She has been particularly active in Germany, where she maintains a close relationship not only with the Berlin State Opera, but also Frankfurt Opera. She has also appeared at the Bavarian State Opera, Cologne Opera, Semperoper Dresden and Stuttgart State Opera. Her international concert engagements have included performances with Beethoven Orchester Bonn, Calgary Philharmonic, Malmö Symphony, Orchestre de Paris, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Stuttgart Philharmonic, among others.

Ms. Kim studied composition and conducting in her hometown of Seoul, South Korea, before continuing her studies at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart (State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart), where she graduated with distinction. Directly after graduation, she was awarded the First Prize in the International Jesús López-Cobos Opera Conducting Competition at the Teatro Real.

Filed under: conductors, music news, San Francisco Opera

Lei Liang Wins the 2020 Grawemeyer Award


Just announced:
The Chinese-American composer Lei Liang has won the 2020 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. He was chosen on the basis of his orchestral work A Thousand Mountains, a Million Streams, commissioned and premiered by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under Gil Rose. The new work addresses the issue of climate change and what humans can do to change the outcome.

From the Grawemeyer announcement:

“The world we live in today is dangerous,” Liang said. “Our very existence is threatened by global warming, which is causing violent disruptions to the living things on our planet and being made worse by human irresponsibility.”

The half-hour piece takes listeners on a journey through a virtual landscape that first sings and dances but later jolts and collapses into fragments. Near the end, the sound of rain emerges and resurrects nature.

“When creating the work, I wanted to convey the importance of preserving our landscapes, both physically and spiritually, to sustain a place where we and our children can belong,” he said.

Liang, 47, is a music professor at University of California, San Diego, and research-artist-in-residence at Qualcomm Institute, the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology. He has composed more than 100 works, including pieces addressing other contemporary social issues such as human trafficking and gun violence.

“Xiaoxiang,” his concerto for saxophone and orchestra, was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2015.

“Liang’s piece, which explores a huge range of emotions and ends with both hope and ambiguity, has a forceful, convincing arc and wonderful orchestral colors,” said Marc Satterwhite, music award director. “Like some of our other winners, he challenges people inside and outside the field of music to ponder important things, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so.”

Schott Music, a company founded in 1770 in Germany now with offices worldwide, publishes all of Liang’s compositions. BMOP/sound record label released a recording of his Grawemeyer-winning piece in 2018.

Filed under: awards, music news

RIP Mariss Jansons (1943-2019)

The great Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons has died at his home in St. Petersburg. He was only 76. From his orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony:
“The news of the death of our chief conductor Mariss Jansons has filled us with deep dismay and sorrow. With his death, the music world loses one of its greatest artists. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have shared many unforgettable concerts with him over the past 17 years and treasure our close personal and artistic collaboration. The unrelenting demands he made on himself and his musicians, the treatment of his colleagues that was unfailingly full of respect, and the great dedication to music he demonstrated will forever be remembered. Mariss Jansons will occupy a place of honor in the history of our orchestra, and we will honor his memory and keep it alive.” (Orchestra Board of the BRSO)
“The news of Mariss Janson’s death fills me and indeed all those who got to know him with unfathomable sadness. As an individual and a musician alike, he made the lives of so many people richer. I will always be grateful to him for this.” (Nikolaus Pont, Manager BRSO)

Filed under: conductors, music news

Farewell to the Harry Partch Instrumentarium

It was only in 2014 that the fabulous collection of Harry Partch Instruments found a new home at the University of Washington’s School of Music. While being kept there, the collection has been brought out for numerous performances — including an event I got to cover last year under the collection’s caretaker, Charles Corey.

Seattle-based cellist Peter Tracey writes about the value of having these instruments available to anyone curious about them: “I learned from a friend who played in the Partch ensemble that it was open to just about anybody: all you had to do was ask. Soon after, I did, and that decision has shaped my life as a musician ever since.”

Tracey also tells the story of how Corey came to be given responsibility for overseeing the collection and how they ended up at UW in Seattle. Sadly, he reports that UW “has decided not to renew the Partch instruments’ residency here in Seattle, and the collection will likely be moving on to a new home in the coming year.”

I haven’t heard yet of any definite plans for the next stage on the journey of the Partch instruments. Later in the month, on November 19, 21, and 22, there will be three more chances to encounter them one more time in Seattle in a trio of programs at Meany Hall’s Studio Theater.

The performance on November 21 will present an all-Partch program consisting of Barstow, selections from Eleven Intrusions, San Francisco, Dark Brother, Castor & Pollux, The Potion Scene (from Romeo and Juliet), and And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma.

Filed under: Harry Partch, music news

New Takács Lineup

Congratulations to Richard O’Neill, who was just announced as the newest member of the marvelous Takács Quartet. When Geri Walther retires from the group at the end of May 2020, O’Neill will become the new violist.

Richard O’Neill has contributed invaluably to the success of the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s festivals and is always a joy to hear. I have a special affection for the Takács as well, as I was assigned one of their concerts for the very first professional review I wrote.

Filed under: chamber music, music news

RIP Giya Kancheli (1935-2019)

Another terrible loss for music, for art, for humanity.
An appreciation from Giya Kancheli‘s label ECM:

Georgian composer Giya Kancheli has died in Tblisi, aged 84. A highly original musical thinker, Kancheli often attributed his artistic independence to his early listening. It was a love of jazz, firstly, that brought him to the composition classes of the Tblisi Conservatoire with dreams of writing for big band after the manner of Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton. A performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring turned his world upside down, as he put it, as did exposure to the music of Bartók and Webern. “If everything had happened in logical sequence”, Kancheli once said, “my scale of values would have been different, and I would, correspondingly, have written different music.” Coming late to the full scope of contemporary composition, hard to hear in the Soviet Union of the 1950s, he looked to Shostakovich’s work for guidance: “His symphonies were almost my only models of contemporary art under the conditions of my information isolation.” Lasting friendships were gradually formed with other composers of his generation, composers with whom he felt a spiritual affinity, including Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt and Valentin Silvestrov. Kancheli’s music however is its own universe, often distinguished by extreme dynamic contrasts, from a whisper to a thunderous roar. At all volume levels a yearning, deeply melancholic quality resonates in its timbres.

In 1991 Kancheli moved to the West, first to Berlin and later to Antwerp, always remaining resolutely Georgian in spirit. Kancheli’s moving song cycle Exil, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski and released on ECM New Series in 1995 – with settings of verses of Paul Celan and Hans Sahl – was interpreted by some critics as an autobiographical work, a view Kancheli strove to dispel: “Nobody expelled me from anywhere. If I had left in Soviet times, when you couldn’t go back, it would have been an entirely different matter.” He travelled frequently to his homeland, where he was a revered figure, widely known for his writing for film and theatre as well as for his orchestral works.

Giya Kancheli’s music was first heard on ECM New Series in 1992 with Vom Winde beweint, performed by his long-term supporters violist Kim Kashkashian and Dennis Russell Davies, who was also the conductor on Trauerfarbenes Land, Caris Mere (including clarinettist Eduard Brunner), Abii ne viderem and Diplipito.
Mstislav Rostropovich who appeared together with conductor Jansug Kakhidze on Magnum Ignotum, said: ‘I love this composer for his independence. Olivier Messiaen revealed for me the limitlessness and endlessness of time, and the same is true for Kancheli.’
Gidon Kremer is one of the most loyal interpreters of Giya Kancheli’s music, first appearing on Lament, which was recorded in the composer’s homeland Georgia with the Tblisi Symphony Orchestra. On Chiaroscuro, Kancheli’s most recent ECM release, Kremer played together with Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Further musicians and friends who served Giya Kancheli’s wide musical oeuvre with their artistry are Thomas Demenga, Oleg Maisenberg, the Hilliard Ensemble, Dino Saluzzi and Jan Garbarek.

The music will be listened to for many years to come.

Filed under: Giya Kancheli, music news

RIP Jessye Norman (1945-2019)

Filed under: Jessye Norman, music news

Posthumously Released Statement from Christopher Rouse

The late Christopher Rouse left this moving statement, which he he asked to be released after his death:

Without music my life would have had no meaning. It has not only informed my life or enriched my life; it has GIVEN me life and a reason for living. I’ll never be able to explain why these vibrating frequencies have the power to transport us to levels of consciousness that defy words — I simply accept the fact that music has this miraculous power for me and for myriad other people I have known.

My hope has been to do for my listeners what Beethoven and Berlioz and Bruckner and Ibert and all of those others who worked — and still do — for me. I’ve wished to “pay it forward” by inviting listeners to call on me to enter their hearts and their lives and to allow me the honor of accompanying them on their road through life. If summoned I will try to be of use: to sing you a song, to paint you a picture, to tell you a story. Perhaps we can take a journey together. A caveat: I may sometimes take you to a place you’ll find it difficult to go, but my goal will always be at journey’s end to provide you with solace and strength.

And what a wealth of ways to summon him he has left behind for us, for posterity.

Here’s Anthony Tommasini’s sensitive appraisal for the New York Times. As he notes: “Just weeks before his death, Mr. Rouse was putting the finishing touches on his Symphony No. 6. The work will receive its premiere performance on Oct. 18 in Cincinnati by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Louis Langrée.”

Filed under: Christopher Rouse, music news

RIP Christopher Rouse (1949-2019)

News of the death of Christopher Rouse has spread quickly on social media. This great American composer, who was 70, passed away at his home in his native Baltimore, according to a statement issued by his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes.

His final work, Symphony No. 6, will be given its posthumous premiere on October 18-19 by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra led by Louis Langrée.

Here’s an interview of the prolific composer discussing his Requiem, which was written to pay homage to Hector Berlioz on his bicentennial. Rouse deemed it “the best piece I’ve ever written.” Grant Gershon led the LA Master Chorale in the premiere of Rouse’s Requiem in 2007.

John Adams, who shared the same birthday with Rouse (February 15), made these remarks in a Tweet:

I will very much miss Chris Rouse’s benevolently grumpy, Brahmsian presence, not to mention his strong music. We shared the same birthday, and would communicate once a year on that date. I’ll forever regret my eternal razzing of his beloved and luckless Orioles.

Here’s a brief overview from B&H:

Born in 1949 in Baltimore, where he lived until his death, Rouse developed an early interest in both classical and popular music. He graduated from Oberlin Conservatory and Cornell University, numbering among his principal teachers George Crumb and Karel Husa. Rouse maintained a steady interest in popular music: At the Eastman School of Music, where he was Professor of Composition from 1981-2002, he taught a course in the history of rock for many years. Rouse was also a member of the composition faculty at The Juilliard School since 1997, and the Distinguished Composer-in-Residence at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Rouse’s prolific catalog includes six individualistic symphonies, concertos for 12 different instruments, and a multitude of vivid, colorful symphonic works with programmatic themes. His concertos garnered him several prestigious awards. The Trombone Concerto, written for Leonard Bernstein and dedicated to him after he passed away, earned Rouse the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in Music. His Cello Concerto, premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the orchestra’s 75th anniversary, won two Grammy Awards. His guitar concerto Concerto de Gaudi, inspired by the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi’s combination of surrealism and mysticism, won the 2002 Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition.

Throughout his life Rouse was championed by the greatest orchestras and conductors across the US and around the world, most notably Marin Alsop, Alan Gilbert, David Robertson, Leonard Slatkin, and David Zinman. He composed works for renowned soloists Dawn Upshaw, Evelyn Glennie, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Cho-Liang Lin, Sharon Isbin, Carol Wincenc, among others. From 2012–2015, Rouse served as the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic. Rouse was also resident composer at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Biennalle, Pacific Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival, Eugene Symphony, and Aspen Music Festival.

Filed under: Christopher Rouse, music news

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