MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Mason Bates’s Violin Concerto

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Here’s my program note on the Violin Concerto Mason Bates wrote for Anne Akiko Meyers, on this weekend’s program with the National Symphony Orchestra:

With the Violin Concerto of Mason Bates, this all-American program extends to music being written in the 21st century. At the same time, Bates’s adventurous outlook and interest in expanding the possibilities of the orchestral sound world link him to the American maverick tradition represented by such composers as Charles Ives, whose music concludes the program.

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Filed under: Mason Bates, National Symphony, new music

Beneath Lighted Coffers

Andy Akiho; photo by Aestheticize Media

Andy Akiho; photo by Aestheticize Media

The National Symphony Orchestra’s program this weekend, conducted by Manuel López-Gómez, is titled Rhythms of the Americas. It will include the world premiere of a new Concerto for Steelpan by the composer and percussionist Andy Akiho, who was recently named winner of the The Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund.

Here’s a taste of what to expect from Andy’s new concerto. Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, he has given the piece an evocative title: Beneath Lighted Coffers:

When the National Symphony undertook its first international concert tour under Music Director Christoph Eschenbach’s leadership in June 2012-playing at venues across the Americas-the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago was among its destinations. The NSO performed a concert in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Republic’s independence from the United Kingdom, and the following day Music Director Christoph Eschenbach was presented with a steelpan by the Prime Minister in gratitude. A tuned percussion instrument made of sheet metal that was invented in Trinidad and Tobago in the 20th century, the steelpan is a fitting symbol for the Republic’s independence from colonial domination. At that occasion Maestro Eschenbach announced that the NSO would commission a concerto for this marvelously versatile instrument.

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Filed under: National Symphony, new music, percussion, program notes

Sibelius and Mahler at the NSO

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This week’s National Symphony program pairs Sibelius and Mahler, with Christoph Eschenbach conducting.

Here’s a debate from the Talk Classical site pitting the two composers against each other as symphonists:

Two of the greatest symphonists of the 20th century…but who is greater?

Sibelius and Mahler both took on the symphony with quite different philosophies. In their famous exchange, Sibelius said: ” I admire the symphony’s style and severity of form, as well as the profound logic creating an inner connection among all of the motives,” whereas Mahler said: “The symphony is like the world; it must embrace everything.”

Who is right here? Both? Neither?

As an admirer of both symphonists, my vote goes to Sibelius. While Sibelius’s seven symphonies often lack a sort of “hysteria” and hyper-emotion that one encouters in Mahler, his works can still certainly elicit strong emotional responses. And he does this within fairly strict means, concentrating the musical rhetoric so every theme, phrase, motive and note seems to be concentrated with meaning.

Plus, Sibelius seems to have a masterful handle on the symphonic form, which I think is important here. A symphony is not a suite or a rhapsody; it, by its very definition, has rules and conventions. Sibelius seems to take the symphony head on and make music that adheres to the “severity of style.” whereas Mahler seems to go more rhapsodic and bend the rules quite a bit more.

Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with that; again, I love Mahler’s symphonies. But from a technical standpoint, Sibelius seems to understand symphonic form much better.

Obviously, there are no right or wrong answers here; not one of us can say definitively who is the greater. But I think a civil and respectful discussion on this would be most interesting!

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Filed under: Mahler, National Symphony, Sibelius

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