MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

RIP Randolph Hokanson

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Last night, at the age of 103, the pianist Randolph H. Hokanson died in Seattle. Randy’s passing marks the end of an era, but he lives on in the artistry and creative spirit he imparted to generations of pianists.

I was incredibly fortunate to get to know him in his final years, starting with my interviews to prepare this profile in 2014 — when he was a young buck of 98:

“I’ve seen it all!” announces Randolph Hokanson before losing himself in a mischievous gale of laughter. With someone else, you might be tempted to indulge that as hyperbole. With Hokanson, who was born in 1915 in Bellingham, it’s tempting to take it literally.

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Filed under: pianists, Randolph Hokanson

A Weekend at Tippet Rise

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Jeffrey Kahane playing the “Goldberg” Variations. Credit: photo is by Emily Rund, courtesy of Tippet Rise Art Center

My report for Musical America on my recent trip to the Tippet Rise Art Center for a weekend of chamber music, sculpture, and nature has now been posted. PDF version here: Tippet Rise-pdf-07.30.18_MusicalAmerica

FISHTAIL, Montana–Lots of music festivals beckon with the prospect of a temporary retreat from the mundane. Tippet Rise Art Center takes this to a remarkable extreme, thanks to its geography. Located on a 10,260-acre working ranch in rural south-central Montana, Tippet Rise requires nothing less than a pilgrimage just to take in one of the musical weekends of this year’s summer festival season, spread over eight weeks between July and September.

Filed under: Bach, John Luther Adams, Musical America, pianists, review, travel

Igor Levit Is the 2018 Gilmore Artist

Igor Levit

Congratulations to Igor Levit for winning the 2018 Gilmore Artist Award, a distinction conferred to recognize “extraordinary piano artistry with some of the most generous financial support given in the musical arts. The $300,000 award is conferred every four years to an international pianist of any age and nationality following a rigorous and confidential selection process.”

The Gilmore Artist Award “is made through a non-competitive process. Pianists are nominated by a large and diverse group of international music professionals.” Past recipients include Rafał Blechacz (2014), Kirill Gerstein (2010), Ingrid Fliter (2006), Piotr Anderszewski (2002), Leif Ove Andsnes (1998), Ralf Gothóni (1994), and David Owen Norris (1991).

I met Levit when the Republican presidential primaries were still in progress and the idea of Donald Trump winning the election seemed absurd, but even then I recall his very serious concern about the awful possibility. As Michael Cooper puts it in this first-rate New York Times profile, Levit “has stood out by emerging as the de facto pianist of the resistance.”

My profile of Levit for Steinway & Sons from 2016:

It’s early February, over lunch before his Seattle debut later in the evening, and Igor Levit can’t stop talking about how thrilled he is to be touring the United States.”

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Filed under: music news, pianists

Conrad Tao: Leaving the Comfort Zone

My new profile of pianist and composer Conrad Tao for Steinway  is now online:

HIS NAME HASN’T changed, but mentally splicing the twenty-three-year-old Conrad Tao with the child prodigy who first came before the general public more than a decade ago is likely to make you do a double take.

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Filed under: Conrad Tao, pianists, profile

Kavakos and Wang on Tour

 

kavakos-wangOn Friday Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang come to Seattle as part of their current tour. My interview with the Greek violinist for The Seattle Times:

Forget about art for art’s sake.

The virtuoso violinist Leonidas Kavakos staunchly believes that artistic creativity is vital for a fully human life — and even for our survival.

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Filed under: pianists, Seattle Times, violinists

Jonathan Biss Reflects on “Late Style”

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Jonathan Biss. (Benjamin Ealovega)

My Seattle Times interview with Jonathan Biss, who will perform in two events this coming weekend at UW:

At the advanced age of 36, Jonathan Biss finds himself fascinated by “late style” — the manner of expression an artist adopts as the end of life approaches.

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Filed under: Beethoven, Brahms, Kurtág, pianists, Seattle Times

Igor Levit’s Big Win

There’s so much music news I’m still trying to catch up with: including the recent announcement of pianist Igor Levit’s big win. His mammoth account of three sets of variations — and it is a fantastic recording — was named 2016 Recording of the Year, the top prize from Gramophone.

My profile of Levit appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Listen Magazine:

It’s early February, over lunch before his Seattle debut later in the evening, and Igor Levit can’t stop talking about how thrilled he is to be touring the United States. It was only two years ago that the Russian-German pianist made his first U.S. appearance — choosing the unusually intimate venue of the Board of Officers Room at the Park Avenue Armory (seating for about 150) — just a few days before jumping in at the last minute for Hélène Grimaud in a City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra concert. (He did the same for Maurizio Pollini three months later.)

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Hugo Shirley interviewed Levit when Gramophone first reviewed the recording — Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, and Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Sony Classical) — for the November 2015 issue.

When I meet Levit in Berlin he is quick to make clear that he sees these composers as a trinity of equal importance. He doesn’t feel for one moment any sense of special pleading in the inclusion of Rzewski, the radical, consonant-heavy American composer (the name is pronounced ‘jefski’) whose People United was composed in 1975 as a modern complement to Beethoven’s great set of 33 variations on Diabelli’s simple little waltz.

The fact that it has 36 variations, following the 33 and 30 ‘Veränderungen’ (the German word implies something more transformational than the somewhat flat English equivalent) of the Diabellis and the Goldbergs respectively, offers just one pleasing numerical development between these works, with Bach’s set providing a foundational lexicon of variation techniques that both Beethoven and Rzewski build upon.

Congratulations, Igor Levit!

Filed under: Bach, Beethoven, Frederic Rzewski, pianists, profile

Martha Argerich

I finally had my first chance to see the fabled Martha Argerich live at last night’s Lucerne Festival concert — the second of two concerts at the Summer Festival by Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

Even in such a decided non-masterpiece as Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1, she’s the real thing, one of the most magnetic musical personalities I’ve encountered.

As a generous encore, she and Barenboim sat together at the keyboard to play a Schubert’s piano duo: the Rondo in A major, D 951.

Filed under: Daniel Barenboim, Martha Argerich, pianists

Happy 101st, Randolph Hokanson!

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Randolph Hokanson with pianist Judith Cohen – a day before he turned 100 (photo by Thomas May)

This is a belated birthday salute, as Mr. Randolph Hokanson’s actual birthday happened on 22 June. He’s now into his second century. Today I’ll be attending a recital by Mr. Hokanson. In honor of the occasion, here’s a profile I wrote a couple of years ago about this remarkable pianist (also at work as a composer these days):

“I’ve seen it all!” announces Randolph Hokanson before losing himself in a mischievous gale of laughter. With someone else, you might be tempted to indulge that as hyperbole. With Hokanson, who was born in 1915 in Bellingham, it’s tempting to take it literally.
This gifted pianist and teacher has witnessed almost a century of not just ceaseless but accelerating change: epochal shifts in technology, in education, in how music and the arts are valued.

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Filed under: anniversary, pianists

Jeremy Denk’s “iPhone Shuffle about Syncopation”

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UPDATE: This morning (16 March) I was informed that Mr. Denk — not uncharacteristically — has announced a last-minute change of program. The first half remains the same; the second half (originally Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert/Wanderer Fantasy) will be replaced by the Goldberg Variations.

Here’s my latest story for the Seattle Times:

He’s got rhythm — “fascinatin’ rhythm,” as Ira Gershwin might say.

Toes will inevitably tap when pianist — and New Yorker contributor — Jeremy Denk returns to Seattle to perform at Meany Hall on Friday evening, March 18. For his recital, which concludes the President’s Piano Series at the University of Washington this season, Denk has programmed a dim sum of pieces to illustrate the way composers across the centuries have played with the beat.

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Filed under: pianists, preview, Seattle Times, Uncategorized

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