MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Music of Remembrance’s Latest Program Is Also Music of Our Time

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Stojka, Ceija. “Hiding”. Courtesy of Pat and Marcus Meier

My story for The Seattle Times on Music of Remembrance’s latest commission (details on the concert here):

Mary Kouyoumdjian’s to open myself, to scream, inspired by Roma artist and Holocaust survivor Ceija Stojka, is at the center of MOR’s May 21 program. “Our mission is to speak out for oppressed people,” says MOR founder Mina Miller.

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Filed under: commissions, Music of Remembrance, new music, Seattle Times

Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] 3: Wow!

Friday night brought the season finale of Seattle Symphony’s innovative — and always fun — late night [untitled] series. As usual, the affair offered a program of adventurous and far-ranging chamber music, here linked by the personalities of two powerfully individual artists who feel familiar yet who remain mysteriously unfathomable.

“I am deeply superficial,” goes one of the bon mots — or Warholian koans —  in Andy Warhol Sez, a collection of seven brief pieces for bassoon and piano by American composer Paul Moravec. Each is prefaced by the bassoonist reciting a quotation from Warhol, followed by bassoon-keyboard duets that either further ironize or contradict the statement — or perhaps have nothing to do with it at all.

Moravec wrote AW Sez for David Sogg, a bassoonist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, in Warhol’s native city, but it seemed tailor-made for SSO principal Seth Krimsky. His drily sardonic recitations gave way to spirited playing that conjured multiple personalities.

Cristina Valdés, who supplied theatrically appealing counterpoint from the keyboard, returned for the second work, Tinkling or killing time in an airport lounge (and being arrested) by Yannis Kyriakides, a composer now based in the Netherlands.  The inspiration here was a scene from the documentary Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser, in which the jazz legend was found wandering around Logan Airport and taken by the police to the state hospital and released after a week of observation.

Elena Dubinets, SSO’s Vice President of Artistic Planning, explained that Kyriakides created a virtual mini-piano concerto, giving a demanding and prominent role to the pianist, who frames the piece, which is based on Monk’s song Trinkle Tinkle.  Valdés conveyed the hypnotic fascination of the writing flawlessly,  which certainly mirrors the composer’s description of the airport scene: “Monk [was] seen spinning around like a whirling dervish in an airport space.”] SSO Associate Conductor Pablo Rus Broseta, leading the chamber ensemble, allowed space for the most eccentric gestures to register without sacrificing rhythmic precision.

The rest of the program was filled out by a winning and generous “sample” of a larger work: Andy: A Popera, courtesy of the Philadelphia-based collective The Bearded Ladies Cabaret. This is not a “bio-opera” but a fanciful, whimsical, at times unexpectedly incisive music theater hybrid that loosely riffs on images of an artist who was all about riffing on images.

The score itself is characteristically unclassifiable, a seamless mingling of contributions by company member Heath Allen and Dan Visconti, to a libretto and direction by the insanely talented John Jarboe (Bearded Ladies’ artistic director).

Gender is merely one category that becomes dizzyingly fluid in this show, which resurrects the artist’s mother, Julia Warhol (Malgorzata Kasprzycka) and presents the Birth of a Legend as Andrei (Mary Tuomanen) emerges from a sealed cardboard box, wielding a little camera and pinpointing members of the audience at random for their (diluted) 15 seconds of fame.

As Candy Darling, Warhol’s meta-tragic Superstar, Scott McPheeters commanded attention across the multi-level set, dying a Dido-ish death and glorying in Rebecca Kanach’s flowing, billowing costumes.

The five-member chorus was first rate, backed by a mostly rock/pop-style band that also featured SSO violinist Mikhail Shmidt on viola. The confluence of pop and classical trained voices never jarred but sounded utterly convincing — a tool to ratchet up emotions just when needed.

The whole experience was so lively and enjoyable, it seemed to end too quickly. “An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have,” according to Andy Warhol. But, as he knew, who can also make people have the need.

(c)2017 Thomas May – All rights reserved

Filed under: Andy Warhol, new music, review, Seattle Symphony

Philip Glass at 80

The tyrants, war-mongers, and profiteers come and go, as predictable as they are destructive: and they make life hell for all around them.

But it’s possible to feel hope when we consider the immense power that comes from creative personalities who use their gifts to radiate what’s best in humanity. All the more reason to take stock of how our artists and performers so generously enhance our lives with their creative contributions.

A very happy 80th birthday indeed to the marvelous, magnanimous Philip Glass. He has changed the way we listen to music, opening up new vistas of perception and beauty.

A handy list of upcoming events to mark Glass at 80 is here on the composer’s website.

From my recent essay for  Los Angeles Opera on their moving production of Akhnaten directed by Phelim McDermott:

Numbers, chanted in hypnotic patterns, set the stage for Philip Glass’s first opera, Einstein on the Beach, and the very idea of numbers underlies the revolution depicted in his third, Akhnaten: the monotheistic revolution instigated by the opera’s pharaoh-protagonist, who fatefully attempts to replace ancient Egypt’s traditional polytheistic order with the one god Aten.

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Filed under: new music, Philip Glass

Christopher Cerrone’s Liminal Highway

The remarkable composer Christopher Cerrone has posted excerpts from Liminal Highway, his recent work for flute and electronics premiered by Tim Munro (formerly of eighth blackbird fame).

I had the privilege of writing the notes for this and the other works Tim programmed on his New York solo debut concert last fall at Miller Theatre. From my piece on Liminal Highway:

The issue of resonance and how it relates to the process of memory is a central preoccupation in much of Cerrone’s music. As the winner of the 2015 Samuel Barber Rome Prize, he spent his year in the Eternal City exploring the intersections between music, architecture, and acoustics, building an installation in a stairwell in the American Academy…

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Filed under: electronic music, flute, new music

Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin: A Sea Apart

1380x591_saariahoOn Friday, 1 December 2016, the Metropolitan Opera will premiere its new production of Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin. It will mark the first time since 1903 that the company will have presented an opera by a woman composer.

Here’s my essay for the Met’s Season book on this stunning creation by Kaija Saariaho:

Since its world premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2000, L’Amour de Loin has earned a place among the most acclaimed stage works of the 21st century. The opera won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Musical Composition in 2003 and has been performed in Paris, London, Santa Fe, Helsinki, Aspen, Darmstadt, and elsewhere. Yet it took years before Kaija Saariaho became convinced that opera could be a viable medium for what she wanted to express as a composer.

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Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, new music, Uncategorized

Learning To Listen: Fallujah Brings the Iraq War to the Opera Stage

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(c) Sarah Shatz/New York City Opera

The tag “CNN opera” was always a misleading way to refer to operas grappling with current events, but it’s downright insulting when it comes to a work like Fallujah, the chamber opera by the Canadian composer Tobin Stokes and the Iraqi-American librettist Heather Raffo that just received its East Coast première in a co-production by New York City Opera and Long Beach Opera.

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Filed under: new music, New York City Opera, review

Jaap van Zweden Takes the New York Philharmonic for a Test Drive

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Last week Jaap van Zweden conducted the New York Philharmonic in their first concert together since he was named Alan Gilbert’s successor as music director (starting in the 2018-19 season).

The program was a rich one: the Prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, and the New York premiere of a brand-new viola concerto, Unearth, Release, by the highly talented young LA-based composer Julia Adolphe.

My review for Musical America has now been posted (behind the usual paywall):

NEW YORK—Four-and-a-half years after making his New York Philharmonic debut, Jaap van Zweden ascended the podium on Thursday for his first concert with the orchestra since being appointed …

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Filed under: Musical America, new music, New York Philharmonic, review, Tchaikovsky, Wagner

Listening to Julia Adolphe

Tonight brings the New York Philharmonic’s world premiere of Julia Adolphe’s Viola Concerto for Cynthia Phelps, titled Unearth, Release — along with a bit of Wagner and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, with Jaap van Zweden conducting.

Filed under: new music, New York Philharmonic, Uncategorized

Tim Munro’s Recounting

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It’s been hard to fight the despair of the last few days. But we have to move on and focus on our shared humanity. The work of artists is more essential than ever. If you’re in New York, tonight flutist Tim Munro (formerly of eighth blackbird) makes his solo concert debut there in a fascinating program at the Miller Theatre. Here’s my introduction from the program book:

Thresholds and Transitions: Tim Munro’s New York Solo Debut

If there’s one thing you might safely expect from a Tim Munro concert, it’s not merely that it will contain the unexpected, but that the unexpected will hold centerstage. Munro (b. 1978) has pointedly not organized a menu of greatest hits replete with virtuoso pablum for his New York solo debut. Casting aside the standard showcases of silver-toned sweetness, he presents a program entirely of living composers (including two world premieres) who aid and abet Munro’s fascination with the theatrical and performative dimensions of his instrument.

If the avant-garde became known for its preoccupation with “extended-playing” techniques, Munro updates the experimental impulse for the 21st century with a bold vision of what it means to play the flute.

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Filed under: new music

A Pair of Striking Debuts at Seattle Symphony

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Polish soprano/composer Agata Zubel

Along with unveiling a world premiere by composer Agata Zubel, the Seattle Symphony continued its ongoing Beethoven cycle with a rhapsodic contribution by soloist Inon Barnatan at the keyboard.

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Filed under: Beethoven, new music, review, Seattle Symphony

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