MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Finnish Creation

March is going to bring a lot of Sibelius to my ears, as the Seattle Symphony marks his 150th anniversary with an ambitious Sibelius Festival to include not just all seven symphonies (conducted by principal guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard) but the Violin Concerto and Finlandia.

According to the SSO, this three-week festival will be “the most extensive festival of Sibelius’s music this year in the U.S.” Even Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum is joining in for the Finnish focus with an exhibit titled Finland: Designed Environments. The exhibit will examine:

the explosion of creativity in Finnish design over the last 15 years. Examples of furnishings, fashion, and craft, as well as architecture and urbanism, illustrate how nearly every aspect of Finnish life incorporates thoughtful design thinking—from city streets and summer homes to fashion and food—and is marked by sensitivity to form and material. The exhibition is the first significant U.S. museum presentation since the 1990s to examine contemporary Finnish design.

Meanwhile, next week reunites Thomas Adès (as composer and conductor) with the San Francisco Symphony for a program on creation themes: along with his new video-accompanied piece In Seven Days, Adès will conduct Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, Darius Milhaud’s La Création du monde, and the remarkable tone poem-with-soprano Luonnotar. (My contribution to the program book is here.)

Filed under: programming, San Francisco Symphony, Sibelius

Going Organic


The other night it was lovely being reminded of how Hurricane Mama, Disney Concert Hall’s fabulous organ, holds court even when that gorgeous monster’s not being played. So I wanted to share this article on the resurgence of the organ in the concert hall, which included a focus on Paul Jacobs and Cameron Carpenter. I published this piece back in the spring of 2012 in Symphony magazine:

Going Organic: The King of Instruments Makes a Comeback in the Concert Hall

Blame it on Stravinsky. Explaining why he opted against using the organ in his Symphony of Psalms, the composer complained that “the monster never breathes.” His notorious putdown may have only mirrored a larger bias fashionable in the heyday of modernism. Still, as a revered musical icon, Stravinsky condemned the organ in a way that reverberated through much of the latter half of the 20th century. A similar attitude can still be encountered among those who write off the instrument as the concern of a specialist, even fringe constituency. Yet several recent trends indicate that the organ is earning a rediscovered sense of respect—and creating remarkable musical pleasure—in concert halls across North America.

In February, for example, California’s Pacific Symphony and music director Carl St.Clair gave the world premiere in Orange County’s Segerstrom Hall of Michael Daugherty’s organ concerto, The Gospel According to Sister Aimee, which dramatizes the life and career of “the first important religious celebrity of the new mass media era,” as the composer describes it. The piece represents one among an extraordinary range of fresh commissions intended to take advantage of the renaissance of pipe organs that have sprouted up in newly built or renovated concert halls during the past twenty years.

“The organ is like an orchestra in itself, so in effect a concerto is like writing for two orchestras,” says Daugherty, homing in on the special appeal of writing for organ and orchestra. “Yes, this is the king of instruments, but it can produce delicate sounds, too. It’s like the field of percussion, where you have a range from the powerful and loud to the very soft and subtle. You can get hundreds of different timbres from a great organ.” He adds that in the past few years, concerts of original music presented by his students at the University of Michigan have increasingly demonstrated an interest in the organ.

continue reading [Note: please navigate to p. 30 of the linked online magazine]

(c)2015 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: American music, essay, organ, programming

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