MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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

Bayreuth’s Free-Willing Tannhäuser

Here are the most perceptive reviews I’ve encountered so far of the controversial new Bayreuth “Venus-goes-to-Burger-King” Tannhäuser that recently opened the 2019 season.

In [Tobias] Kratzer’s rollicking production — intelligent and surprisingly wrenching, though not quite fully formed — the Venusberg is not the libretto’s mythical pleasure realm so much as a lifestyle of young, brash artistry.

Some confusion aside, Mr. Kratzer’s reading of the opera is both novel and clever. … The idea is that our interpretations of Wagner are ever-evolving; that’s why directors are hired for several years, to tweak their productions with each revival.

Joshua Barone in The New York Times

Kratzer and his team simply refused to let themselves by intimidated by tradition, by the overwhelming aura of this historic theater, and by the ever-virulent orthodoxy of the Wagner cult. They instead choose to tell the narrative-romantic saga of the inner human conflict between love and lust, between conformity and rebellion, using sassy, fresh images. And for all their irony, they avoid the trap of playing with it in a way that degrades the work. The opera’s lofty pathos has always provoked parody, but Kratzer does it better: he does it brilliantly.

Christian Wildhagen in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German)

The real trick [of Kratzer’s staging] is that the jokes are not all at the expense of the work. Kratzer doesn’t aim to mock Wagner but to humanize his mythically enraptured figures … Most of all, he shows two forms of art clashing with each other. On the one hand, the world of canonical masterpieces … on the other, the sensual, spontaneous world of performance and counterculture. Wagner himself contained both: the anarchic revolutionary who became a classic during his life. Kratzer doesn’t glorify either side in the process. Venus’s subversive gang is shown to be not only violent but also venal and selfish.

Bernhard Neuhoff for BR-Klassik (in German)

A shared observation: despite the excellent cast and stimulating (while problematic) staging (especially in the third act), Valery Gergiev was less than satisfactory in the pit.

And here’s an interview with director Tobias Kratzer from Deutsche Welle:

DW: How do you tell the story of Tannhäuser in 2019?

Tobias Kratzer: For me, the biographical context behind the creation of Wagner’s Tannhäuser is important. If you take that into account, the opera appears more up-to-date and contemporary. Wagner developed his play during a phase in which he didn’t really know where his life was going; whether he’d go down in history as a revolutionary and anarchist, or as a composer. That was a really interesting insight for me.

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Filed under: Bayreuth Festival, music news, Wagner

Gramophone 2019: A Letter from Seattle

gramophone-cover-july-19_0

Here’s a little contribution from me to this month’s Gramophone magazine:

Across the United States, the pressure is on to redefine longstanding classical music institutions that otherwise face potential extinction….

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Filed under: Gramophone, music news, Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony

Artistry and Humanity at the 2019 Concours Musical International de Montréal: Violin Edition

My report on the 2019 Concours Musical International de Montréal:

The 2019 edition of the Concours musical international de Montréal (CMIM), devoted this year to the violin, started off with added pressure – for the organisers, that is. Because of the convergence of several of the most high-profile violin tournaments elsewhere this spring – from Auckland to Augsburg, from Sendai to Brussels – the recently completed CMIM also had to compete with the competitions.

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Filed under: competitions, music news, violinists

Bernard Haitink Announces Retirement

Now it’s official: Bernard Haitink has announced that he will conduct his last concert on  September 2019 in Lucerne. His farewell: Bruckner’s Seventh (along with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Murray Perahia as the soloist).

Filed under: conductors, Lucerne Festival, music news

Ludovic Morlot Named Seattle Symphony Conductor Emeritus

This announcement just in from Seattle Symphony:

Seattle Symphony Board Chair René Ancinas and President & CEO Krishna Thiagarajan announced today that Ludovic Morlot, the Seattle Symphony’s Harriet Overton Stimson Music Director, has been named to a new position, the Judith Fong Conductor Emeritus, in recognition of his exceptional role in the transformation of the Seattle Symphony over the past eight years. Morlot steps down as Music Director at the end of the current season, becoming Conductor Emeritus this fall. He will be succeeded by Music Director Designate Thomas Dausgaard, who has served as the Seattle Symphony’s Principal Guest Conductor since 2014.

The lifetime title of Conductor Emeritus is being bestowed on Morlot in recognition of his past accomplishments and his future relationship with the orchestra. Morlot will return for regular guest conducting engagements and will have the opportunity to continue working with the orchestra on future recordings, tours and residencies when the Music Director is not available. As Conductor Emeritus, Morlot will continue his fruitful relationship with the Seattle Symphony, which has resulted in an expanded orchestra, nearly 60 commissions and premieres, 19 recordings on the Seattle Symphony Media label, five Grammy Awards, and Gramophone’s Orchestra of the Year Award.

Filed under: Ludovic Morlot, music news, Seattle Symphony

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