MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Gabriella Smith: Treelogy

I was so taken with Seattle Symphony’s live performance of Tidalwave Kitchen this week that I searched out other upcoming projects by its wonderful young composer Gabriella Smith and discovered this. She’s one of three composers commissioned by the The Soraya/CSUN for its Treelogy project—including Steven Mackey and Billy Childs—to create work in response to California’s devastating wildfires.  The commission was inspired by the New York Times writer John Branch’s 2020 coverage (who just wrote about the disappearing San Francisco fog).

Here’s some info on Treelogy, which will be premiered on 23 February 2023 at the All Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts on the California State, Northridge campus in Los Angeles County:

Treelogy: A Musical Portrait of California’s Redwood, Sequoia, and Joshua Trees is a celebration and a call to action to save California’s beloved and iconic trees. Inspired by California’s epic wildfires chronicled by The New York Times journalist John Branch, The Soraya’s Executive and Artistic Director, Thor Steingraber, and artist in residence Etienne Gara, have created a musical response to the fires, and a tribute to these precious trees. Renowned composers Billy Childs, Steven Mackey, and Gabriella Smith—all with deep California roots of their own — have each composed original music for this three-part concert. Produced, commissioned, and presented by The Soraya, Treelogy will tour the state bringing scientists, educators, activists, and advocates will come together and bring its inspiring message to campuses across California. This unprecedented multi-disciplinary effort will emphasize the pride of our state and the memories of every family’s national park vacation. 

Filed under: music news, new music

2022 Ojai Festival

The 76th edition of the Ojai Music Festival begins today and runs through Sunday. I was honored to write the notes for the inspiring, original, “discipline-colliding” program curated this year by AMOC* (the American Modern Opera Company) and featuring its unparalleled team of artists. That a collective is serving in the role of music director/curator is one of the unique features of this summer at Ojai.

There are many fascinating tangents to AMOC*’s program: a focus on the legacy of Julius Eastman, whose music begins and ends the festival; perspectives on Minimalism, especially from Eastman, Hans Otte, and the young generation of composers emerging today; adventurous juxtapositions of music, dance, and theater; and the exciting convergence of early music sensibilities (on the part of today’s performers, that is) and “new music.”

Also in the lineup are several anticipated premieres: AMOC* co-founder Matthew Aucoin’s new cycle of “mini-concertos,” Family Dinner; Bobbi Jene Smith and colleagues’ intriguing latest dance-theater projects, Open Rehearsal and The Cello Player; Carolyn Chen’s music-dance work How to Fall Apart; and Anthony Cheung’s poetry-song cycle, the echoing of tenses. Also part of this cornucopia of premieres was to have been a new staging by AMOC* co-founder Zack Winokur of Olivier Messiaen’s song cycle Harawi (part of his “Tristan trilogy”), but this will not be able to happen because Julia Bullock is unable to travel from her home in Germany due to Covid. Harawi has been a long-in-the-making collaboration between the soprano and Winokur — it’s a major loss not to be able to present it at the festival. But such is the extraordinary team ethic and resilience of this company that member Davóne Tines and colleagues agreed to step in at the last minute to offer an entirely different program for the Friday night slot: Tyshawn Sorey’s For James Primosch and Tines’s own curated program Recital No. 1: MASS.

Filed under: new music, Ojai Festival

Joel Sachs’s Farewell Concert

It’s hard to process the reality that Joel Sachs has decided to retire as of June 30 after 52 years of teaching and music making at Juilliard; he will hold the status of professor emeritus. Generations of musicians and musical thinkers have been mentored by Sachs, who as a conductor, pianist, and curator has also made invaluable contributions to new music. I’ve been immensely privileged over the years to benefit from his incredible wisdom while editing the programs he single-handedly writes for Juilliard’s always-stimulating Focus festival at the beginning of the year. Zachary Woolfe wrote about Sachs and the 2022 edition of Focus in The New York Times here.

Sachs tonight conducts the New Juilliard Ensemble, which he founded and has led for 29 seasons, in their final concert of the season and his own farewell concert (at 7.30 pm ET).

The program, which will be live-streamed, is characteristically intriguing and full of discoveries:

Yangfan XU Fantastic Creatures of the Mountains and Seas
     Lennox Thuy Duong, Narrator
Paul FREHNER Sometimes the Devil Plays Fate
     
Mary Beth Nelson, Mezzo-Soprano
Diana SYRSE The Invention of Sex
     
Diana Syrse, Soprano
Paul DESENNE Sinfonía Burocràtica ed’Amazzònica

A digital program can be found accesible digital program.

Writes Sachs in his farewell announcement: “Of course, I have mixed feelings–making music with our great young performers is always a huge pleasure. But having arrived at age 82 in excellent health, it struck me as time to move on to other projects–recording, performing as a pianist, and writing–and to indulge in luxuries that come with an open schedule, such as more traveling and more time with my children and grandchildren.”

I’m looking forward to the next project Joel Sachs will be sharing with us. In the meantime, warmest congratulations!

Filed under: Joel Sachs, Juilliard, music news, new music

Andy Akiho’s Seven Pillars Premieres at Emerald City Music

Sandbox Percussion is scheduled to perform Andy Akiho’s “Seven Pillars” in Seattle on Dec. 3 and in Olympia on Dec. 4.  (Daniel Ashworth)
Sandbox Percussion is scheduled to perform Andy Akiho’s “Seven Pillars” in Seattle on Dec. 3 and in Olympia on Dec. 4. (Daniel Ashworth)

Seven Pillars, an epic for percussion quartet by the marvelous composer Andy Akiho, receives its live performance world premiere this weekend in Seattle by the Sandbox Percussion ensemble. My story for The Seattle Times:

“The spirit of percussion opens everything,” musician John Cage once declared. He had in mind the way percussion music can open the door to unaccustomed ways of listening — and even of perceiving the environment around us…..

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And this weekend brings another not-to-be-missed percussion classic: Michael Gordon’s hour-long Timber, for six players, which is being presented by Base: Experimental Arts + Space: 6520 5th Avenue South, #122nd, Seattle, WA 98108 on Dec 4 and 5 at 3 and 8pm. Features a six-player instrument built by local master carpenter Isaac Anderson & light design by Kevin Blanquies.

Filed under: new music, percussion, Seattle Times

Lee Mills Steps in to Conduct the Seattle Symphony in a Rare Program of Hannah Lash and Amy Beach 

Lee Mills with soloists Hannah Lash and Valerie Muzzolini and the Seattle Symphony (photo: James Holt / Seattle Symphony)

I reviewed Seattle Symphony’s latest program: a world premiere of a new double harp concerto by Hannah Lash and Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony:

SEATTLE — An unexpectedly last-minute round of musical chairs reshuffled the lineup for one of the most unusual and original programs of the Seattle Symphony season. As a double harp concerto, Hannah Lash’s The Peril of Dreams, an SSO commission, in itself represents a rarity in the orchestral literature. That it was paired with the seldom-programmed “Gaelic” Symphony by Amy Beach made the occasion all the more remarkable….

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Filed under: Musical America, new music, review, Seattle Symphony

Lucerne Festival Forward: Inaugural Edition

This weekend, Lucerne Festival will launch the first edition of its Forward Festival devoted to contemporary music. Members of the international Lucerne Festival Academy network have spearheaded this new fall initiative, which has been curated by a team of 18 members. The organizing theme is “networks” and the process of forging connections and achieving closer communication with the audience.

The opening event pays tribute to the late Louis Andriessen Friday evening, 19 November, at 10:00 pm CET, with a raucous performance of Workers Union (video intro here).

Winnie Huang will create 10-minute performances for just one guest at a time throughout the festival and Annea Lockwood’s Water and Memory and Michael Pisaro’s ricefall will similarly engage listeners. In, ricefall, for example, the participants let grains of rice trickle like rain onto various objects and surfaces, enabling an immersive and meditative sound experience. Olga Neuwirth was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s science fiction story “The Long Rain” to create her work of spatial music Construction in space: The sound is in motion, with the audience located right in the middle. Pauline Oliveros’ Out of the Dark, performed in complete darkness, is also conceived as spatial music and, like Lockwood, aims at “deep listening”: the listeners immerse themselves in the time-space continuum of the sound and become part of it.

A new piece by the Swiss percussionist and composer Jessie Cox will also be premiered — one of six works commissioned by the curatorial team to explore and exploit the architecture and acoustics unique to the KKL Concert Hall. “Networks” are additionally at the center of the various models of musical self-organization which Luis Fernando Amaya’s Tinta Roja, Tinta Negra, José-Luis Hurtado’s Retour, and George Lewis’s Artificial Life 2007 explore in open scores that work with improvisational elements. 

Complete series of video introductions

“Deep Listening” series

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, Lucerne Festival Academy, new music

New Violin Concerto from Arturo Márquez: Fandango

This week’s concerts — which were originally scheduled to introduce Francisco Coll’s violin concerto for Patricia Kopatchinskaja — are instead presenting the PNW premiere of Fandango by the Mexican composer Arturo Márquez, written for Anne Akiko Meyers (shown in the video above performing the premiere of Adam Schoenberg’s Orchard in Fog with the San Diego Symphony and Sameer Patel).

Meyers premiered Fandango to acclaim in August at the Hollywood Bowl, with Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Seattle Symphony, led by guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, is performing the concerto again on Saturday at 8.00pm PST, along with Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide.

SSO is also making the stream of Thursday’s performance available to watch until 14 October here (Fandango starts at 18:15).

Here is the composer’s commentary on Fandango:

“The Fandango is known worldwide as a popular Spanish dance and specifically, as one of the fundamental parts (Palos) of flamenco. Since its appearance around the 18th century, various composers such as S. de Murcia, D. Scarlatti, L. Bocherini, Padre Soler, W. A. Mozart, among others, have included Fandango in concert music. What little is known in the world is that immediately upon its appearance in Spain, the Fandango moves to the Americas where it acquires a personality according to the land that adopts and cultivates it. Today, we can still find it in countries such as Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico, in the latter and specifically in the state of Veracruz and in the Huasteca area, part of 7 states in eastern Mexico, the Fandango acquires a tinge different from the Spanish genre; for centuries, it has been a special festival for musicians, singers, poets and dancers. Everyone gathers around a wooden platform to stamp their feet, sing and improvise tenth-line stanza of the occasion. It should be noted that Fandango and Huapango have similar meanings in our country. 

In 2018 I received an email from violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, a wonderful musician, where she proposed to me the possibility of writing a work for violin and orchestra that had to do with Mexican music. The proposal interested and fascinated me from that very moment, not only because of Maestra Meyers emotional aesthetic proposal but also because of my admiration for her musicality, virtuosity and, above all, for her courage in proposing a concert so out of the ordinary. I had already tried, unsuccessfully, to compose a violin concerto some 20 years earlier with ideas that were based on the Mexican Fandango. I had known this music since I was a child, listening to it in the cinema, on the radio and listening to my father, a mariachi violinist, (Arturo Márquez Sr.) interpret huastecos and mariachi music. Also since the 90’s I have been present admiring the Fandango in various parts of Mexico. I would like to mention that the violin was my first instrument when I was 14 years old (1965), curiously, I studied it in La Puente California in Los Angeles County where fortunately this work will be premiered with the wonderful Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of my admired Gustavo Dudamel. Beautiful coincidence as I have no doubt that Fandango was danced in California in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Fandango for violin and orchestra is formally a concerto in three movements:

  1. Folia Tropical
  2. Plegaria (Prayer) (Chaconne)
  3. Fandanguito

The first movement, Folia Tropical, has the form of the sonata or traditional classical concert: Introduction, exposition with its two themes, bridge, development and recapitulation. The introduction and the two themes share the same motif in a totally different way. Emotionally, the introduction is a call to the remote history of the Fandango; the first theme and the bridge, this one totally rhythmic, are based on the Caribbean “Clave” and the second is eminently expressive, almost like a romantic bolero. Folias are ancient dances that come from Portugal and Spain. However, also the root and meaning of this word takes us to the French word “Folie”: madness.

The second movement: Plegaria pays tribute to the huapango mariachi together with the Spanish Fandango, both in its rhythmic and emotional parts. It should be noted that one of the Palos del Flamenco Andaluz is precisely a Malagueña and Mexico also has a huapango honoring Malaga. I do not use traditional themes but there is a healthy attempt to unite both worlds; that is why this movement is the fruit of an imaginary marriage between the Huapango-Mariachi and Pablo Sarasate, Manuel de Falla and Issac Albeniz, three of my beloved and admired Spanish composers. It is also a freely treated chaconne. Perhaps few people know that the Chaconne as well as the Zarabanda were two dances forbidden by the Spanish Inquisition in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, long before they became part of European baroque music. Moreover, the first writings on these dances place them in colonial Mexico of these centuries.

The third movement “Fandanguito” is a tribute to the famous Fandangito Huasteco. The music of this region is composed of violin, jarana huasteca (small rhythm guitar) and huapanguera (low guitar with 5 orders of strings) and of course accompanies the singing of their sones and the improvisation sung or recited. The Huasteco violin is one of the instruments with the most virtuosity in all of America. It has certain features similar to baroque music but with great rhythmic vitality and a rich original variety in bow strokes. Every Huasteco violinist must have a personal version of this son, if he wants to have and maintain prestige. This third movement is a totally free elaboration of the Huasteco Fandanguito, but it maintains many of its rhythmic characteristics. It demands a great virtuosity from the soloist, and it is the music that I have kept in my heart for decades.

I think that for every composer it is a real challenge to compose new works from old forms, especially when this repertoire is part of the fundamental structure of classical music. On the other hand, composing in this 2020 pandemic was not easy due to the huge human suffering. Undoubtedly my experience with this work during this period has been intense and highly emotional but, I have to mention that I have preserved my seven capital principles: Tonality, modality, melody, rhythm, imaginary folk tradition, harmony and orchestral color.”

Filed under: new music, Seattle Symphony, violinists

Houses of Zodiac: Poems for Cello

I’m looking forward to Houses of Zodiac: Poems for Cellothe first album collaboration between Paola Prestini and former Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler (her husband).

Zodiac presents Zeigler’s performances of Prestini’s solo cello works, along with poetic interludes featuring the writings of Anaïs Nin (which are read by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings fame), Pablo Neruda, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Natasha Trethewey. The album also includes Prestini’s score for We Breathe Again, an award-winning documentary performed by musicians Tanya Tagaq and Nels Cline and others.

Filmmaker Murat Eyuboglu has additionally created a full-length film featuring dance and choreography by Butoh master Dai Matsuoka and New York City Ballet soloist and “Rogue Ballerina” Georgina Pazcoguin.

Filed under: music news, new music

In Memoriam Paul Taub

Today at 4:00 pm PDT, LoudSwell will stream a memorial concert for the irreplaceable flutist and musical visionary Paul Taub.  You can access the performances at Loudswell.com and on The Royal Room Facebook page.

Both sites will have a link to donate to the artists. Performed live on The Royal Room stage, following all Washington State Department of Health guidelines.

The lineup of performers includes:

Members of Seattle Chamber Players
Seattle Modern Orchestra
Laurie DeLuca
Dave Sabee
Mikhail Schmidt
Byron Schenkman
Angelique Poteat
Kin of the Moon (Heather Bentley, Leanne Keith, Kaley Eaton)
Cristina Valdes
Beth Fleenor
Chuck Deardorf
Wayne Horvitz
Jarrad Powell
Jovinos Santos Neto
Michael Partington
Agata Zubel
Claire Chase
And many more…

The obituary I wrote following Paul’s untimely death on 13 March is here.

Filed under: memorial, music news, new music

The No One’s Rose at Stanford

Here’s my preview of a remarkable collaboration between American Modern Opera Company and the Philharmonia Baroque, reshaped by the pandemic interruption:

After nearly a year of postponement, Stanford Live prepares to present the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale‘s collaboration with the American Modern Opera Company. The No One’s Rose, a project created in a moment of prevailing uncertainty about the identity of art, uses the poetry of Holocaust survivor Paul Celan as a framework to reflect on creating art as a community in the face of overwhelming loss and despair…

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Filed under: commissions, new music, poetry

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