MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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

Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival Goes Forward

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James Ehnes, Seattle Chamber Music Society artistic director, in the recording studio he set up while sequestered at his home near Tampa, Florida, where he just completed recording Bach’s solo violin Sonatas and Partitas. (Courtesy of Kate Ehnes)

Here’s my story about Seattle Chamber Music Society’s plan to go forward with its beloved, month-long Summer Festival with an online version.

Along with its terrible human toll, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the performing arts. Cancellation announcements are now so routine that the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s (SCMS) decision to proceed with a 2020 Summer Festival comes as a welcome respite…

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Meanwhile, here’s something from James Ehnes’s makeshift home studio. I’ll write more about his latest project there in an upcoming post.

Filed under: chamber music, James Ehnes, music news, Seattle Chamber Music Society

A Live Concert from the Shanghai Philharmonic

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Live orchestral music making is slowly returning to Mainland China. My colleague Rudolph Tang alerted me to this concert from the Shanghai Philharmonic, which is now being streamed from its Facebook page.

More than 150 days since it had to shut, the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra resumed its season with this live concert yesterday led by music director Zhang Yi. A socially distanced audience was in attendance, and the concert marks a major effort to globally stream orchestral music from Mainland China.

This isn’t another chamber concert with just a handful of players, as we’ve been increasingly seeing as concert halls in Europe and Asia tentatively return to business. The centerpiece here is nothing less than the stage-crowding Rite of Spring.

Rudolph Tang attended the concert. He reports that the audience was about 350 strong and “had to go through a series of checkpoints, including body temperature check, filling out forms, showing their QR codes, and metal detection” and were additionally required to wear masks throughout the program.
He adds: “The orchestra encored veteran Chinese composer Shi Wanchun’s Long Live the People after Rite. It’s the theme music of the hugely popular film The Founding of the Nation (1989) about how the PRC was formed. The concert was enthusiastically received and the global streaming initiative was covered widely by the local newspapers.”

An image provided by Rudolph Tang
Shanghai-Philharmonic

More from the press release here.

Filed under: classical music in Mainland China, music news

Taiwan Philharmonic To Resume Concerts

More green shoots: on Sunday 24 May 2020, the Taiwan Philharmonic (aka National Symphony Orchestra) will begin performing live again in the first of a series of three concerts (to continue on 30 May and 12 June) at Taiwan’s National Theater and Concert Hall.

These three concerts will be live-streamed to a global audience on this YouTube channel. For the first concert — scheduled to begin on Sunday at 19:30 Taiwan time (12:30 CET/7:30 EDT) — music director Shao-Chia Lü will conduct a program of Dvořák/Serenade in D minor, Tchaikovsky/Serenade for Strings, and Tyzen Hsiao/Bang Chhun Hong (“Longing for the Spring Breeze”).

Taiwan has weathered the COVID pandemic especially well to date, without resorting to shutting businesses or implementing lockdowns. The hope is now to show a way back to being able to perform full-scale orchestral concerts again.

The government has allowed a live audience already for this first concert: a total of 500 in attendance, whose temperatures will be checked. Everyone will be required to wear masks, and other safety measures such as spaced seating will be followed. The orchestra envisions as many as 1,000 people who may be able to attend the upcoming concerts.

The performances will be archived afterward and available on the YouTube channel.

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, music news, Taiwan Philharmonic

American Youth Symphony Premieres Geometric Unity

During its virtual gala on Thursday, 7 May at 7pm EST, the Los Angeles-based American Youth Symphony will give the world premiere of Geometric Unity by Music Director Carlos Izcaray.

“Due to this current pandemic, we are all truly being required to live in the digital age, which presents us with an enormous opportunity to do things differently and think about what the classical music experience looks like online” said Izcaray. “Geometric Unity was written with this in mind, utilizing new technologies that support the incredible talent of our musicians, and offer an accessible and inspirational listening experience.”

The title Geometric Unity pays homage to the physicist and economist Eric Weinstein “theory of everything”.*

“Izcaray toys with a new musical algorithm developed to create a richly modern, yet palatable harmonic experience,” according to the press release. The piece is “also inspired by jazz vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier, whose songs often feature highly imaginative uses of harmony.”

Along with the performance, the online virtual gala — available on YouTube and at AYA’s page — includes a panel discussion about composing new orchestral works, an online silent auction, a cooking demonstration, and even a little bit of magic.

*Marcus du Sautoy writes about Weinstein’s challenge to Einstein in The Guardian.

Filed under: music news

Semmelweis

Now available for streaming is Semmelweis, a work of music theater composed by Raymond J. Lustig on a libretto by Matthew Doherty about the Hungarian doctor Ignác Semmelweis, who pioneered the antiseptic response to infection during a Viennese epidemic in 1846.

I haven’t had a chance to view the piece yet and am unfamiliar with the composer, but it’s obviously a timely topic. The performance here is the 2018 world premiere co-produced by Budapest Operetta Theatre and the Bartók Plusz Opera Festival.

Lustig remarks: “There has never been a more urgent moment in history to reflect on the mystery of insight, the tension between truth and hubris, our deadly myopic inertia, and the clear truth that we as a society need our full human participation, our fresh perspectives and brave new ideas, literally to survive. My hope is that, by giving vocal expression to the Semmelweis story … we may all be inspired by his refusal to remain silent on a truth that was not merely inconvenient, but intolerable.”

Filed under: music news, new opera

RIP Lynn Harrell (1944-2020)

This week brought the sad news that Lynn Harrell has died. He was only 76. Here are some “master class” observations on Beethoven’s Op. 104, no. 1 that the incomparable cellist shared with The Strad last year:

There is the most wonderful moment in the first movement of Sonata no.4, at the beginning of bar 94, where Beethoven writes in A major in the piano part and D minor for the cello. This lasts only for a moment, but for a Classical composer to have the concept that the two main poles of traditional harmony – the dominant and the tonic – could be played at the same time shows that he was starting to think in a way that might have led, if he had lived another 15–20 years, to a Schoenbergian breaking up of traditional harmony altogether. It’s just extraordinary.

Filed under: cello, chamber music, music news

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 http://www.iceorg.org and watch over 350 videos of live performances and documentaries at digitice.org.

Filed under: music news

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