MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Reena Esmail: Musical America’s New Artist of the Month

reena-esmail-amber2I had the privilege of writing this profile of the remarkable young composer Reena Esmail, Musical America‘s New Artist of the Month:

At Chorus America’s annual conference this past June in Los Angeles, a general session devoted to the topic “The Medicine of Music” featured a singalong demonstration of a new interactive choral work titled Take What You Need.

It wasn’t only the members of Street Symphony and the Urban Voices Project, a community choir of singers from LA’s Skid Row neighborhood, who appeared transformed as they sang this music by Reena Esmail. The large audience of choral professionals from around America joined in, visibly moved by this confirmation of musical meaning.

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Filed under: Musical America, new music, profile

Profile of Cellist Seth Parker Woods

Seth1_Michael-Yu

Seth Parker Woods; photo by Michael Yu

My profile of the cellist Seth Parker Woods is the cover story for the August issue of Strings magazine:

“Question authority” isn’t just a political slogan. This quintessentially Socratic imperative is also characteristic of visionary artists who are drawn to challenge cultural assumptions that put a damper on the power of the art they practice. For Texas-born cellist Seth Parker Woods, pushing boundaries and definitions comes naturally—both for his own creative development and for his overall sense of mission.

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Filed under: American music, profile, cello, Strings

Celebrating American Composer George Walker

07aGood timing: here’s my Strings magazine profile of George Walker, who turned 95 years young last week (now available online).

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Filed under: American music, profile, George Walker

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

Shimmering Color and Incandescence

UPDATE:

Here’s the link to the complete piece.

My profile of violinist Augustin Hadelich and his Grammy Award-winning interpretation of Henri Dutilleux with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot will appear in the August 2016 issue of Strings magazine. A brief sample:

Augustin Hadelich just missed being in Los Angeles to receive his first-ever Grammy Award. He had even traveled to LA for a chamber concert the day before the ceremony but was already en route to his next engagement — with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Poole on England’s coast — when congratulations for winning the Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo starting pouring in via social media.

 

 

Filed under: Henri Dutilleux, profile, violinists

Screen Test

JAC_Redford

The new issue of LISTEN Magazine contains my profile of composer and film music veteran JAC Redford, who just orchestrated Thomas Newman’s music for the upcoming James Bond film (Spectre):

THE WHOLE PICTURE is what counts; and the composer must see it not as a composer but as a man of the theater,” wrote Leonard Bernstein, reflecting on composing the score for On the Waterfront.

Bernstein’s adventure into film scoring — marred by creative scrapes with the film’s director Elia Kazan — was unpleasant for him, and marked the conductor–composer’s first and last time writing film music (not counting already existing scores that were adapted for film) — anomaly in an otherwise naturally collaborative career. But for many composers, there’s something perpetually alluring about the medium of film.

Like a particular scent, the simplest chord progression or snatch of soaring melody from a beloved score can instantly trigger a flood of memories—both personal and cultural.

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Filed under: composers, film music, James Bond, profile

Hercules vs. Vampires: Opera Goes to the Movies

Hercules-vs-Vampires_Hercules-and-Theseus

Los Angeles Opera truly has become a company interested in innovation. Next month brings Hercules vs. Vampires, an opera-meets-cult film mashup between Mario Bava’s 1961 film (Hercules in the Haunted World) and LA-based composer Patrick Morganelli.

Here’s my interview with Mr. Morganelli:

A century ago, the budding film industry borrowed pretty heavily from opera—which makes a lot of sense, considering how the larger-than-life gestures of operatic acting suited the new medium of silent film so effectively.

And film has been repaying the favor in recent years: Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Kevin Puts’ Silent Night, Howard Shore’s The Fly, André Previn’s Brief Encounter, even a new opera by Giorgio Battistelli inspired by the controversial Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth, set to premiere in May at La Scala.

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Filed under: Los Angeles Opera, profile, programming

Seattle Mayor’s Arts Awards 2014: Stephen Stubbs

Stephen Stubbs

Stephen Stubbs

My profile of Stephen Stubbs, one of this year’s recipients of the Mayor’s Arts Awards in Seattle, is now live on City Arts:

When he was coming of age in his native Seattle in the 1960s, Stephen Stubbs experienced a sea change in popular music that glorified the image of the troubadour. Countless musicians picked up a guitar, accompanying themselves to songs intended to be authentic, from the heart.

Stubbs was among them—only the instrument he was plucking was a lute. At Nathan Hale High School, Stubbs had belonged to a madrigal choir, which stoked his curiosity about Renaissance music.

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Filed under: culture news, early music, profile

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