MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle Symphony Musicians Furloughed

Another disappointing development in the Covid-19 era American orchestral landscape. Brendan Kiley reported this evening in the Seattle Times that the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s management has decided to furlough three-quarters of its 250-person staff temporarily, bringing it down to 58.

The 88 SSO musicians will enter a temporary furlough projected to last from April 13 to June 1.

According to Kiley: “The decision was reached in negotiation with the musicians’ union — ‘a joint resolution,’ said SSO CEO Krishna Thiagarajan. “That’s really important — we want musicians to get the credit.'”

Fortunately, SSO will continue to provide health insurance coverage for everyone.

Kiley adds: “SSO has not yet seen any relief funding, either from the federal government or local, arts-specific measures — and, Thiagarajan added, they probably wouldn’t have come fast enough to alleviate the organization’s immediate needs.”

In another, more promising development: the National Symphony Orchestra musicians have reached an agreement with Kennedy Center management to take a 35% pay cut rather than an outright furlough, as reported here by The New York Times.

All hell broke lose last month when it was announced that Kennedy Center management planned to deal with the crisis by furloughing the musicians “for an undetermined amount of time so as to address the financial shortfalls from the coronavirus pandemic,” as Julia Jacobs reported. Following as this decision did on the allocation of $25 million for the Kennedy Center as part of the federal emergency stimulus package, the announcement sparked widespread outrage — and was used like red meat to stir up the anti-art frenzy of the MAGA base. That base, however, may have appreciated the quintessentially Trumpian tactics of announcing a unilateral furlough in the first place.

According to Peggy McGlone’s report in The Washington Post, “the musicians [said] they were blindsided” by the original announcement of the furlough. “They said they had contacted NSO Executive Director Gary Ginstling to negotiate some cuts but didn’t hear back. Instead, [Kennedy Center President Deborah] Rutter informed them that they would be furloughed [after April 3] until the arts center reopened.”

Fortunately, a more equitable process of grievance resolution was subsequently pursued: “Ed Malaga, president of American Federation of Musicians Local 161-710, said the musicians were pleased to resolve the grievance and avoid furloughs,” according to McGlone.

Filed under: music news, National Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony

Cancellations To Combat the COVID-19 Pandemic

Here’s the emergency proclamation from Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s limiting large events to minimize public health risk during COVID-19.

FURTHERMORE, based on the above situation and under the provisions of RCW 43.06.220(1)(b) and
RCW 43.06.220(1)(h), to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace, I hereby
prohibit the following activities in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties related to social, spiritual, and
recreational gatherings, which restrictions shall remain in effect until midnight on March 31, 2020, unless
extended beyond that date:
Gatherings of 250 people or more for social, spiritual and recreational activities including, but not
limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts;
festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities.
Violators of this of this order may be subject to criminal penalties pursuant to RCW 43.06.220(5).

Filed under: music news

Jennifer Kessler Named New Executive Director of ICE

Announcement from International Contemporary Ensemble:

New York, NY (March 4, 2020) — The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) announces the appointment of Executive Director Jennifer Kessler, who joined the organization in January 2020. Kessler brings a breadth of experience in developing community, education, social justice, and artistic programs with arts organizations worldwide, including Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, and Carnegie Hall, and joins the organization as it embarks on continued growth in the lead-up to its twentieth anniversary season.

“Jennifer’s many years of experience within today’s musical landscape, along with her nuanced understanding of our mission and vision, is invaluable,” said Co-Artistic Director Rebekah Heller. “We are thrilled to be working side-by-side with her to shape the future of the International Contemporary Ensemble.”

“Jennifer comes to the International Contemporary Ensemble with deep experience in the non-profit and music education/social justice world,” said Claude Arpels, International Contemporary Ensemble Board President. “She is an accomplished musician herself, who appreciates the power of contemporary music. As we approach our twentieth anniversary season, Jennifer is the perfect person to join our Co-Artistic Directors in the leadership of the Ensemble into its third decade.”

“I’m thrilled to join the extraordinary artists of the International Contemporary Ensemble, which I’ve admired from my days as a horn player,” said Kessler. “For 18 years, the Ensemble has been a critical partner and incubator to hundreds of emerging composers, allowing them to stretch their imaginations and launch boundary-pushing new music onto the world’s stages. I am excited to build on ICE’s commitment to commissioning and developing the music of artists representing many voices, backgrounds, and perspectives; to continue to work with our outstanding partners to amplify these projects around the world; and to share in an ecosystem of learning to support the next generation of performer/composers in radical new ways of sharing powerful stories through music.”

About Jennifer Kessler
Prior to joining ICE, Jennifer served as Executive Director of Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, a music and social justice nonprofit that empowers girls and gender expansive youth. As the Director of Community and Education for Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Jennifer produced orchestral concerts for youth in partnership with Dance Theatre of Harlem, and launched an intensive music program called Youth Orchestra of St. Luke’s, modeled after Venezuela’s El Sistema youth orchestra program. At Carnegie Hall, Jennifer managed young musician training programs with world-renowned artists. Consultant projects include developing partnerships, producing festivals, designing education initiatives, and fundraising for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Bang on a Can’s Found Sound Nation, and the Inner City Youth Orchestra of LA. Jennifer has raised millions of dollars for arts and justice organizations, and has also overseen the Getty Education and Community Investment Grants through the League of American Orchestras as well as participated on multiple peer-review grant panels.

Jennifer holds degrees in French horn performance from Northwestern University in Illinois and Hanns Eisler Musikhochschule in Berlin, Germany. She was an El Sistema fellow at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, receiving a graduate certificate of nonprofit management with a focus on music for social change programs. After performing in her early career as a French horn player with the Berlin Philharmonic, Ensemble Modern, and the Israeli Opera Orchestra, Jennifer now sings and plays guitar in occasional rock bands.

About the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)
The International Contemporary Ensemble is an artist collective that is transforming the way music is created and experienced. As performer, curator, and educator, the Ensemble explores how new music intersects with communities across the world. The Ensemble’s 35 members are featured as soloists, chamber musicians, commissioners, and collaborators with the foremost musical artists of our time. Works by emerging composers have anchored the Ensemble’s programming since its founding in 2001, and the group’s recordings and digital platforms highlight the many voices that weave music’s present.

A recipient of the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, the International Contemporary Ensemble was also named the 2014 Musical America Ensemble of the Year. The group currently serves as artists-in-residence at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Mostly Mozart Festival, and previously led a five-year residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The International Contemporary Ensemble was featured at the Ojai Music Festival from 2015 to 2017, and at recent festivals abroad such as gmem-CNCM-marseille and Vértice at Cultura UNAM, Mexico City. Other performance stages have included the Park Avenue Armory, The Stone, ice floes at Greenland’s Diskotek Sessions, and boats on the Amazon River.

OpenICE, made possible with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, offers free concerts and interactive, educational programming wherever the Ensemble performs. As the Ensemble in Residence of the Nokia Bell Labs Experiments in Art and Technology, the International Contemporary Ensemble advances music technology and digital communications as an empowering tool for artists from all backgrounds. Curricular activities include a residency and coursework at the New School College of Performing Arts, along with a summer intensive program, called Ensemble Evolution, where topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion build new bridges and pathways for the future of creative sound practices. Yamaha Artist Services New York is the exclusive piano provider for the Ensemble. Read more at and watch over 350 videos of live performances and documentaries at

Filed under: music news

News from Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

Press release from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra:
CBSO Music Director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla has shared the following news with us:

I would like to tell you about some happy news in my family. I am pregnant with our second child, with a due date in August. We will need to make some necessary changes in my schedule but I look forward to working together to realize some of our most exciting plans. My family and I are very grateful for your friendship and support.

Major projects and tours during the CBSO’s 2020-21 season will take place as planned, with some modifications to her schedule.

Everyone at the CBSO would like to congratulate Mirga on this exciting news.

Filed under: music news

Latest Music News

It’s been a deluge. Just gathering some of the past day’s worth of major announcements:

–Simon Woods has been named Interim Executive Director of the Grand Teton Music Festival.

–The New York Philharmonic announced its 2020-21 season, which will include Project 19 and the American premiere of György Kurtág’s Beckett opera Fin de Partie.

–Juilliard has named violist alum Adam Meyer as its new provost starting July 1, “when Ara Guzelimian steps down as provost and dean and assumes an advisory role.” Juilliard will now have separate the positions of dean and provost and will embark on a search for the new dean.

–Philadelphia Orchestra’s BeethovenNOW project starts March 12 and will pair the nine symphonies with four world premieres commissioned by the ensemble, including composer-in-residence Gabriela Lena Frank, Iman Habibi, Jessica Hunt, and Carlos Simon.

–The Metropolitan Opera just announced its 2020-21 season, featuring new productions of Aida, Die Zauberflöte, and Don Giovanni and Met premieres of The Fiery Angel and Dead Man Walking.

–Lyric Opera of Chicago has announced its 2020-21 season, which is the final season of Sir Andrew Davis’s tenure as music director. Delighted to see Proving Up and Lessons in Love and Violence among the offerings.

Plus: last week, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced its remarkable 2020-21 season program, including America: The Stories We Tell, the Seoul Festival, the Pan-American Music Initiative, the return of the Tristan Project, two John Adams operas, and a total of 27 premieres.

Filed under: music news

Weekend Concert Tips in Seattle


If you’re in the Seattle are, there’s a lot to choose from this weekend. One more chance to catch the incomparable violinist Gidon Kremer, who has become a major champion of the long-neglected Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-96). Earlier this week, Kremer gave an intimate performance at Octave 9, playing his transcriptions of half of Weinberg’s 24 Preludes for Solo Cello as well as his vast First Sonata for solo violin and the Bach D minor Chaconne.

Under Dausgaard’s baron, he will perform Weinberg’s Violin Concerto (from 1960) again on Saturday evening. Last night’s account was a major discovery, leaving me moved, thrilled, enraptured–and hungry for more. Weinberg is routinely compared to Shostakovich (same thing happens to Galina Ustvolskaya), but for all the superficial resemblances, I was drawn to Weinberg’s distinctive lyricism and the pockets of hopefulness he weaves into this score. It delighted me no end that Kremer chose what I immediately selected as my favorite of the Preludes for his encore.

The rest of the program was magnificent: Dausgaard mixed rich oil with theatrical flair in the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture — Tchaikovsky’s early breakthrough — and brought out many a smile from the musicians in a heartfelt, vibrant, even deliriously unbuttoned interpretation of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. SSO principal flutist Demarre McGill’s exquisite solos alone negated any excuse to miss this.

Sunday brings a real feast. Octave 9, which has been on overdrive lately with not-to-be-missed concerts, will present one of the most compelling young cellists at work today: Seth Parker Woods, in a program titled Difficult Grace. The teaser reads: “Inspired by Dudley Randall’s poem “Primitives,” this interactive concert features five world premieres and one Seattle premiere by Monty Adkins, Nathalie Joachim, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, Fredrick Gifford, Ryan Carter and Freida Abtan. ‘Difficult Grace’ showcases an array of visual art and music by some of today’s most imaginative storytellers.”

Parker Woods is also a brilliant curator, so there’s bound to be some excellent discoveries here. More background on the cellist.

Elsewhere in the Benaroya Hall complex on Sunday evening, Byron Schenkman & Friends will perform a program enticingly titled Baroque Bacchanalia. The wonderful harpsichordist Byron Schenkman has curated an evening of selections on mythological themes by Bernier, Campra, Jacquet, and Rebel, with bass-baritone (and composer) Jonathan Woody as the featured vocalist.

Earlier on Sunday, Early Music Seattle presents a semi-staged production of Vivaldi’s Motezuma at Town Hall. This version was reconstructed and reimagined by Matthias Maute, music director of the Montreal-based Ensemble Caprice Music Director. The Other Conquest, a response to Vivaldi’s colonialist distortions by composer Héctor Armienta and Seattle poet Raúl Sánchez, is being presented Saturday evening (free of charge) at Broadway Performance Hall.

Also Sunday afternoon: Temple de Hirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill (1441 16th Ave) is presenting a free concert at 2pm featuring pianist Judith Cohen, SSO clarinetist Eric Jacobs, and violinist Hal Grossman. Their program is titled Bernstein, Copland, Bloch, & Gershwin: Legendary Jewish Composers of the 20th Century. I’m especially looking forward to hearing Copland’s Vitebsk Trio, a study in quarter-tones from 1929. The concert is actually just one of a weekend-long series of events at Temple de Hirsch Sinai celebrating Shabbat Shirah (Shabbat of Song).

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, Gidon Kremer, music news, Seattle Symphony, Seth Parker Woods, Thomas Dausgaard

San Francisco Opera Announces 2020-21 Season


Season 98 at San Francisco Opera has been announced.

The lineup includes: Fidelio, Rigoletto, Così fan tutte, The Handmaid’s Tale by Poul Ruders, La bohème, The Barber of Seville, and Alexander Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg (“The Dwarf”). Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin will also appear in a concert titled A Celebration of Verdi and Wagner.

Immediately of note is the shift of the customary summer season to April and May (a consequence of renovations that will be taking place in the War Memorial Opera House). And there are now concerts for the traditional season opening as well as the third summer (now spring) season opera.

This season will be the first under new music director, Eun Sun Kim. But there are too many safe and predictable choices. I’m especially glad to see the Ruders (I reviewed the North American premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale at Minnesota Opera 17 years ago) and the gorgeous, heartbreaking, neglected Zemlinsky (which I reviewed just last year in Berlin)–though not sure how that will work as the sole offering.

Here’s the press release.

Complete 2020-21 Season listing:

FALL 2020

OPENING NIGHT CELEBRATION CONCERT with soprano Albina Shagimuratova and tenor Pene Pati; Eun Sun Kim conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra September 11, 2020 (8 pm)

FIDELIO by Ludwig van Beethoven NEW SAN FRANCISCO OPERA PRODUCTION September 12 (7:30 pm), 15 (7:30 pm), 18 (7:30 pm), 23 (7:30 pm), 27 (2 pm), October 1 (7:30 pm), 2020

RIGOLETTO by Giuseppe Verdi September 13 (2 pm), 16 (7:30 pm), 19 (7:30 pm), 22 (7:30 pm), 26 (7:30 pm), October 2 (7:30 pm), 4 (2 pm), 2020

COSÌ FAN TUTTEby Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart NEW SAN FRANCISCO OPERA PRODUCTION October 6 (7:30 pm), 11 (2 pm), 14 (7:30 pm), 17 (7:30 pm), 23 (7:30 pm), 28 (7:30 pm), 2020

THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Poul Ruders WEST COAST PREMIERE October 29 (7:30 pm), November 1 (2 pm), 11 (7:30 pm), 14 (7:30 pm), 17 (7:30 pm), 20 (7:30 pm), 22 (2 pm), 2020

LA BOHÈME by Giacomo Puccini November 15 (2 pm), 18 (7:30 pm), 21 (7:30 pm), 24 (7:30 pm), 28 (7:30 pm), 29 (2 pm), December 2 (7:30 pm), 3 (7:30 pm), 4 (7:30 pm), 5 (7:30 pm), 6 (2 pm), 2020

April 25 (2 pm), 28 (7:30 pm); May 1 (7:30 pm), 4 (7:30 pm), 7 (7:30 pm), 11 (7:30 pm), 14 (7:30 pm), 16 (2 pm), 2021

DER ZWERG by Alexander Zemlinsky COMPANY PREMIERE April 27 (7:30 pm), 30 (7:30 pm), May 5 (7:30 pm), 9 (2 pm), 15 (7:30 pm), 2021

LIANNA HAROUTOUNIAN & IRÉNE THEORIN IN CONCERT May 2 (2 pm), 6 (7:30 pm), 8 (7:30 pm), 2021
Henrik Nánási, conductor

Filed under: music news, San Francisco Opera

DSO’s New Music Director: Jader Bignamini

Congratulations to Jader Bignamini, who has been named the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s 13th music director. The young Italian conductor’s six-year contract begins this fall. He will fully take over in the 2021-22 season.

From Brian McCollum’s report for the Detroit Free Press:

DSO officials point to Bignamini’s musical knowledge, collaborative flair and dexterous leadership as traits that won them over. Most important, said Parsons, he has “the full support of our musicians,” four of whom sat on the search committee that ultimately zeroed in on the Italian.

For the New York Times, Michael Cooper observes:

Choosing a conductor who has been best known for opera — when he jumped in for Mr. Slatkin in 2018, it was for concert performances of Puccini’s “Turandot” — and who is not yet well known in the United States is something of a risk for this orchestra. The Detroit Symphony started the last decade with a painful strike and has been working to rebuild itself ever since, alongside its struggling city — in part by stressing accessibility and streaming concerts for free online.

Filed under: conductors, music news

Wozzeck: Live in HD from the Met

The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, directed by William Kentridge, will be broadcast this afternoon.

Filed under: Alban Berg, Metropolitan Opera, music news

RIP Peter Schreier (1935-2019)

Tenor and conductor Peter Schreier died on Christmas Day in his beloved Dresden — whose Kreuzchor boys’ choir he had joined at the age of ten, when the city lay in ruins.

Deutsche Welle observes: “As GDR ‘export star’ he enjoyed rare travel privileges in the tightly-controlled GDR but reputedly without ever becoming a member of the communist SED party — a necessity for most East Germans who hoped to travel.”

“A day without music is a wasted day,” remarked Schreier, who retired from the stage in 2000 and from concert performances in 2005.

And from the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

It was especially in the area of the German art song, along with Bach’s oratorios, that Schreier shone at his best. His sensitivity as a performer allowed him to take care to steer clear of manneristic gestures in Schubert’s song cycles as well as in the Hugo Wolf lieder that need to be performed with maximal attention to illuminating the text. Instead, he ensured that musical expressiveness was integrated into the larger whole…

Filed under: music news

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