MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Simon Woods To Leave SSO for LA Phil

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Simon Woods, who as President & CEO has worked so closely with Ludovic Morlot to reshape the Seattle Symphony and enhance its sense of mission, will head south in January to become Chief Executive Officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Michael Cooper reports in The New York Times:

In Los Angeles, Mr. Woods will have far greater resources — and a far larger organization to run. The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s annual budget, the largest of any American orchestra, is approximately $125 million — nearly four times Seattle’s, which is $32 million. But he said he was undaunted.

Here’s the full Seattle Symphony press release:

Seattle Symphony Board to Launch Search for Successor

SEATTLE – The Seattle Symphony’s President & CEO Simon Woods, who has led the organization since 2011, will leave in January to become the Chief Executive Officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, widely regarded as one of the nation’s most important and forward- looking orchestral organizations. A search committee led by Board Chair Leslie Jackson Chihuly and Chair-Elect René Ancinas will be formed to launch an international search for Woods’ successor.

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Filed under: Los Angeles Philharmonic, music news, Seattle Symphony

Strange Beauty: The Berlioz Requiem in Seattle

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(c) Brandon Patoc

My review of the Berlioz Requiem performed by Ludovic Morlot and Seattle Symphony:

Even for a composer as naturally original as Hector Berlioz, the Grande messe des morts stands apart for its wild uniqueness…

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Filed under: Berlioz, review, Seattle Symphony

Berlioz Festival Coming Up at Seattle Symphony

Hector BerliozMy story on Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, and Berlioz immersion in the Seattle Times:

Ludovic Morlot’s connection to Hector Berlioz goes deep. When he was 12, his parents moved to a house just a few miles from La Côte-Saint-André, the composer’s native village in the southeastern corner of France.

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Filed under: Berlioz, Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Times

Gidon Kremer with Seattle Symphony

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Gidon Kremer; © Paolo Pellegrin

My review of Gidon Kremer’s visit with Seattle Symphony:

It’s entirely characteristic of Gidon Kremer to choose a discovery piece rather than a surefire crowd-pleaser for what was a rare appearance in Seattle…

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Filed under: Gidon Kremer, Ludovic Morlot, Mendelssohn, review, Schumann, Seattle Symphony

Dmitry Sinkovsky’s Vivaldi Project

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Dmitry Sinkovsky (Photo credit: Marco Borggreve)

Casting a spell over your audience as a violin virtuoso is remarkable enough. But some musicians are real overachievers.

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Filed under: Seattle Symphony, Seattle Times, Uncategorized, Vivaldi

Thomas Dausgaard To Take the Reins at Seattle Symphony

It’s official: Thomas Dausgaard, the first name that came up as Ludovic Morlot’s possible successor, will become music director of the Seattle Symphony as of 2019. He has signed a four-year contract.

Thomas Dausgaard, currently SSO Principal Guest Conductor, was widely believed to be the conductor SSO management would tap, ever since Morlot announced he will step down at the end of the 2018-19 season.

My most recent review of Dausgaard in action with the SSO in an all-Strauss program is here.

Here’s the full press release from Seattle Symphony:

SEATTLE, WA – The Seattle Symphony announced today that Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard will become the orchestra’s next Music Director, beginning in the 2019–2020 season. Dausgaard will succeed current Music Director Ludovic Morlot whose tenure concludes after the 2018–2019 season.

Dausgaard has served as the Seattle Symphony’s Principal Guest Conductor since 2014. Additionally, he is Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (through 2019), Honorary Conductor of the Orchestra della Toscana, and Honorary Conductor of the Danish National Symphony, having previously served as its Principal Conductor from 2004–11.

“For several years, it has been clear that Thomas’ partnership with our musicians is grounded in deep mutual respect and admiration,” commented Leslie Jackson Chihuly, Seattle Symphony Board Chair. “His deepening relationship with the orchestra has produced some of the most electrifying concerts we’ve heard in Benaroya Hall these last few years. His work has been a wonderful complement to Ludovic’s exemplary artistic leadership. Ludovic and Thomas share many creative instincts which have shaped and contributed quite naturally to the exciting evolution of our music making. Thomas is simply the right leader for the next step in our artistic development. We greatly look forward to welcoming him to our Symphony family, and we know he will bring profound inspiration and warmth to our community.”

“Making music with the Seattle Symphony is very special to me,” shared Dausgaard. “Their inspiring artistry fuses generosity, team spirit, devotion and abandon. The orchestra is supported by an equally passionate board and administration, as well as a tremendous audience in the beautiful and acoustically stunning Benaroya Hall. I love the city of Seattle and the great natural beauty of this magical part of the world. So it is with deeply felt joy and honor that I look forward to becoming Music Director of the Seattle Symphony. My warmest thanks to my distinguished predecessors who took the orchestra to its present excellence — and to everybody now asking me to take the Seattle Symphony into the future.”

“This is a joyful outcome for the Seattle Symphony!” added President & CEO Simon Woods. “Thomas Dausgaard has evolved through his career into an artist of extraordinary insight, with all the musical and technical skills to translate his ideas into the most inspired music making. His relationship with the Seattle Symphony goes back over a decade, and for him to move from Principal Guest Conductor to Music Director represents a kind of organic artistic progression that is rare and treasurable. With his highly individual approach to programming, his deep history with recording and his experience as music director with a number of important European orchestras, he is in every way imaginable the perfect fit for our organization.”

Thomas Dausgaard’s close relationship with the Seattle Symphony began in 2003 with performances of Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony, giving Seattle audiences a first glimpse of his creativity and dynamism. Dausgaard’s first season as Principal Guest Conductor in 2014–2015 was marked by a three-week Sibelius Festival which celebrated the composer’s worldwide 100th birthday with performances of all seven of his symphonies. Since then, Dausgaard’s exhilarating and propulsive interpretations of symphonies by Mahler, Nielsen and Rachmaninov have inspired both orchestra and audiences, leading The Seattle Times to write, “The results are thrilling, with completely involved musicians playing for an unusually attentive audience, and a conductor who is a passionate advocate for music that is unapologetically beautiful,” and in another review, “You can tell by the wild cheering emanating from Benaroya Hall: Thomas Dausgaard is back in town.”

In Seattle, Dausgaard has made a point of exploring the “roots of inspiration” for composers and immersing the audience in unique, contextual experiences. In past seasons this has included local Finnish choirs spontaneously rising up out of the audience to sing Finlandia to great emotional effect during the Sibelius Festival, a chorus of alphorns in the Samuel & Althea Stroum Grand Lobby pre- and post-concert to demonstrate the sounds that Strauss was influenced by when he composed the Alpine Symphony, and the Portland-based vocal ensemble Cappella Romana singing Russian liturgical music to introduce Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Second Symphony to show the undercurrent of Gregorian chant that Rachmaninov would have heard as a child in the Russian Orthodox Church. In the current season Dausgaard will conduct two subscription programs beginning with an all-Brahms concert in January including the Haydn Variations, select Hungarian Dances, Liebeslieder Waltzes and Symphony No. 2, and in June he will conduct Sibelius’ monumental choral symphony Kullervo, presented alongside performances of traditional music by Finnish folk musicians.

A champion of contemporary music, Dausgaard conducted the American premiere of Snow by British composer Helen Grime in June 2017. Snow is part of an ongoing series of commissions in a project devised and launched by Dausgaard titled “Scottish Inspirations” with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Enjoying connections with many of the leading composers of today, Dausgaard maintains long-term associations with Magnus Lindberg, Per Nørgård, Bent Sørensen, Sally Beamish and Hans Abrahamsen, among others, and with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra he is currently engaged in leading an ambitious multi-season commissioning project taking its inspiration from J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and featuring new work by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Olga Neuwirth, Anders Hillborg, Brett Dean, and American composers Steven Mackey and Uri Caine.

With over 70 albums to his name, Dausgaard joins one of America’s most recorded orchestras with its triumphant recent history including three Grammy Awards and rave reviews for many recordings on its own label, Seattle Symphony Media. Dausgaard’s projects with the Seattle Symphony include the 2016 live recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 10 (performing version by Deryck Cooke), which was named Disc of the Year by Europadisc and nominated for a 2017 Gramophone Award with the review stating, “this exceptional issue from the Pacific Northwest ought to be a game-changer for all concerned.” Dausgaard’s latest Seattle Symphony Media live recording of Nielsen’s Symphonies No. 3, “Sinfonia espansiva,” and No. 4, “The Inextinguishable,” will be released on November 10. The Seattle Times review of the Fourth Symphony from that performance included this description, “Dausgaard underscored the drama in the mighty outbursts from nearly every section; elegant descending passages in thirds, broad unison statements, mysteriously hushed string passages and a blazing finale.”

Thomas Dausgaard was selected as the Harriet Overton Stimson Music Director following a 6-month search by an 11-member search committee comprised of musicians, board and staff and chaired by Seattle Symphony Board member Paul Leach.

 

Filed under: Ludovic Morlot, music news, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Thrilling Berlioz and Mahler with Guest Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and Seattle Symphony

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Giancarlo Guerrero conducting the Seattle Symphony; photo (c)Carlin Ma

It’s one thing to fulfill an emergency engagement, subbing at the last minute for to conduct an orchestra that’s essentially new to you.

But when the program is as challenging as the one Ludovic Morlot had planned to launch Seattle Symphony’s main concert series, the stakes are significantly intensified.

Giancarlo Guerrero pulled it all off to extraordinary effect on Thursday evening, the first of three concerts pairing Berlioz and Mahler. Guerrero has made himself an invaluable musical force as music director of the Nashville Symphony, where he actively promotes a vigorous commitment to new music and American composers. He’s also pursued creative links with that city’s rich music scene beyond the classical realm. [Full disclosure: I serve as the Nashville Symphony’s program annotator.]

Technically, this wasn’t the Costa Rica-born maestro’s first rendez-vous with the SSO. I can’t find any online record of it–and would love to know what the program was–though he did conduct them once before: apparently in 2004. But the membership has changed significantly since (seven members joining/rejoining the ranks as of this season), and this was no program of routine, tried-and-true orchestral fare. [Update: It was an all-Gershwin program in what was then called the “light classics series”: An American in Paris, the Concerto in F, Catfish Row, and Rhapsody in Blue — h/t Jeff Eldridge.]

(I wrote separately about Morlot’s thinking behind the program. A leg injury has sidelined the maestro, causing him to miss the season’s opening events.)

The concert began with a Berlioz rarity: La Mort de Cléopâtre, one of the four cantatas he wrote in his bid to win the Prix de Rome. (Despite its beauties, this one, from 1829, didn’t succeed with the jurors.) It’s not only a fascinating piece, but Guerrero shaped it with commendable conviction, coaxing some splendid nuances from the SSO.

And the soloist, Dutch mezzo Christianne Stotijn, credibly inhabited her character as the desperate Cleopatra facing the ultimate humiliation from her latest Roman conqueror, Octavian: sexual indifference and the prospect of trading her throne for a future of enslavement.

The writing is at times downright awkward, with long stretches of recitative, and it took a few minutes to begin making its proper impact. But Stotijn used the music’s fascinatingly unpredictable blend of anxiety, pride, shame, and sorrow to shape Cleopatra’s awareness of being trapped–and, ultimately, her restored sense of power by choosing her quietus to make.

Stylistically, it’s all very mixed: Berlioz’s love of Mozart and Gluck sits side by side with wildly original harmonies and orchestral effects, especially in the passage Berlioz devises to depict the aura of Cleopatra’s Pharaonic forebears.

Significantly, Berlioz doesn’t supply a transcendent Liebestod in which Cleopatra envisions her forthcoming liberation through death. (Then again, he was limited to a text pre-selected for him to set by the jury.) Instead, the cantata concludes in suspense and sepulchral darkness. Guerrero elicited especially impressionable moments here, allowing full resonance for Berlioz’s notably understated conclusion–all the more effective after the torrent of passions expressed earlier.

And that was just the first half of this remarkable concert. Guerrero has cultivated his gifts as a Mahler interpreter over the past decade with the Nashville Symphony, but this was my first opportunity to hear his Mahler live. The impact of his Mahler Second was electric and lasting.

Overall, Guerrero exuded an air of inspired confidence, of knowing just what he needed to get from the orchestra and singers without being overly controlling. His podium manner is quite interesting to watch: like a film director right on top of where the camera’s eye should be, he zoomed in and out, cutting across to dramatically contrasting shots and perspectives.

Guerrero turned orchestral knobs and signaled “more” for the many shattering climaxes that punctuate this symphony lasting the length of a feature film. In the Andante immediately following the vast, funereal opening movement, the scene changed so drastically it was as if we had landed for the moment in an entirely different narrative, as the conductor nearly held still, using minimal, graceful gestures to get maximal bloom. For a few moments, I was hoping Guerrero would observe the five-minute pause Mahler asks for in the wake of the devastating first movement (which he apparently has done in Nashville). Perhaps some intangible factor from the audience made him decide to limit the break to a more conventional length.

The scherzo’s restless flow (in which Mahler recycled his setting of the Wunderhorn tune “St. Anthony Preaching to the Fish”) churned evocatively, with Guerrero wiggling to direct the flow just so. He also underscored the bittersweet klezmer snap of the commenting woodwinds (featuring Ben Lulich’s wondrously phrased clarinet).

Stotijn sang a moving “Urlicht” over radiant brass and a serene bank of beautifully balanced string harmonies. That movement convinced me how multilayered Guerrero’s vision of Mahler is: he had no hesitation to go full throttle in the outer movements (and in the “panic” outburst of the Scherzo, where the intertextuality of Mahler’s symphonies–here anticipating the Third–is so strikingly manifest). But he also showed faith in Mahler’s gentlest orchestrations, savoring its most delicate intimations with genuine sensuousness.

If there’s a musical equivalent to the scope of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine, the last movement of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony has to be a major candidate. A few moments seemed to lose a sense of the bigger picture–and this score, for all its miracles, is not without flaws–but I especially valued the suspense Guerrero built up in this scenario of Mahlerian apocalypse.

The Seattle Symphony Chorale didn’t quite achieve the sotto voce effect that makes the choral entrance such a unique, impossible moment, but they ensured that the catharsis Mahler writes into this score happened nonetheless, singing with soul-shattering, heaven-storming power, reinforced by Joseph Adam on the organ. Soprano Malin Christensson joined Stotijn, contributing thrilling colors that soared atop the mass of choral voices.

The SSO, dramatically expanded with guest players and crowding the concert stage, gifted the audience with some of the finest Mahler I’ve heard this orchestra achieve.

Review (c)2017 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

 

Filed under: Berlioz, Mahler, review, Seattle Symphony

Seattle Symphony’s Captivating Season Opener with Renée Fleming

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Seattle Symphony opening night, with conductor Pablo Rus Broseta and soprano Renée Fleming

On Saturday, Seattle Symphony kicked off its new season with special guest Renée Fleming. Associate Conductor Pablo Rus Broseta was on the podium, filling in for Music Director Ludovic Morlot (who was prevented by a leg injury from opening his seventh — and second-to-last — season helming the SSO).

Such affairs are often little more than a lightweight, pleasant upbeat to the season proper. But last night’s performance proved captivating throughout and contained several genuinely memorable moments.

Both halves of the program kept Fleming at the center of attention. The beloved soprano — who sang the National Anthem at the 2014 Super Bowl that brought the Seahawks victory — was in very fine voice indeed. To showcase different aspects of her artistry, she offered an unusual mixture that ranged from mid-century Samuel Barber to arrangements of songs by Björk and some little-known Italian gems from the late 19th century.

The Barber and Björk selections are paired on Fleming’s Distant Light album as well, released at the beginning of this year. Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 by itself became a compendium of Fleming at her most expressive: full tonal support, lush brushstrokes for sustained notes, and emotionally resonant phrasing were in generous supply, together with sensitivity to the nuances of James Agee’s text.

Drawing on all this, Fleming was able to shape the touching flashes of insight from a childhood recalled. Instead of the more comforting, lulling vision of bittersweet nostalgia for a vanished America, her account made it clear that this is a rare musical portrait of  innocence dissected — an innocence that, as the musical element reinforces, can only be ephemeral.

Fleming followed this with a foray into a pair of songs by  Björk, the adventurous, fantastically original Icelandic singer and songwriter.  She sang “Virus” (from Biophilia) and “All Is Full of Love” (from Homogenic), creating a rapturous glow in the second. But even using a mic (though from what I could tell, there was no instrumental amplification), her middle voice occasionally become drowned by the rather gentle ambient orchestration.

The concert’s second half went completely Italian. Fleming gave charming introductions to the fare, which featured sun-dappled lyricism for Licinio Refice’s Ombra di nube (from her Guilty Pleasures album) and Tosti’s delectable Aprile, as well as the swooning fatalism of the famous avalanche aria from Catalani’s La Wally (an operatic death teasingly described by the soprano).

The highlight here was Fleming’s full-throttle version of “L’altra notte in fondo al mare” from Arrigo Boïto’s Mefistofele. She made the misfortunate Margherita’s roller-coaster ride of a mad scene stunningly vivid and perturbing, peppered with featherweight trills that sounded downright eerie in the context, all the more so for their technical finesse.

Leslie Chihuly (in her final season chairing SSO’s Board of Directors) announced the lineup of seven (!) new musician appointments with the SSO:  Demarre McGill (returning as principal flute), John DiCesare (principal tuba), Emil Khudyev (associate principal clarinet), Andy Liang (second violin section), Danielle Kuhlmann (fourth horn), Christopher Stingle (second trumpet), and Michael Myers (fourth/utility trumpet).

All except McGill were able to participate in this concert, and there was a palpable sense of rejuvenating energy.  Having profiled this talented young conductor for Musical America a year ago, I wasn’t at all surprised by how splendidly Pablo Rus Broseta acquitted himself of this high-stakes assignment.

Framing each half of the concert with a substantial overture — Barber’s Overture to The School for Scandal and Verdi’s to La forza del destino — Rus Broseta showed a remarkable command of small details that make big differences, as in his calibration of the brass balance in the Verdi. It had such bite, I felt a sudden urge to see the entire opera, one of Verdi’s wildest creations.

Rus Broseta has a disciplined mind — tempered by his Modernist training — and never settles for the “showy” surface. And he was a sensitive partner with Fleming, allowing her to shine above all in the Barber and Boïto.

Extending the generous, positive spirit of the evening, Fleming returned for a set of three encores.  Lauretta’s “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, featuring her lustrous high A-flat, is an example, she suggested, of perhaps the perfect universal aria. With an invitation to the audience to join her in “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady, Fleming also gave a nod to one of her upcoming new ventures later this season, when she makes her Broadway debut in Carousel. And with a deeply felt “Song to the Moon” from Dvořák’s Rusalka, she acknowledged her own early years in opera.

Review by Thomas May (c)2017 – All rights reserved

Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony

Seattle Symphony Sets Tone for Ambitious Season

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Giancarlo Guerrero is filling in forSeattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot. (Photography by Ma2la)

My latest Seattle Times story:

Gustav Mahler knew how to persist.

In 1888, the twenty-something Mahler played the first movement of his Second Symphony on the piano for conductor Hans von Bülow, an important early mentor. Bülow was famous for, among other things, introducing the world to a score once regarded as “unplayable”: Wagner’s epochal “Tristan und Isolde.”

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Filed under: Mahler, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Times

Mahler’s Fifth by Way of Ligeti in Seattle

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Seattle Symphony and Seattle Symphony Chorale; (c) Brandon Patoc

The road leading to the fusillade of bright, brisk chords at the end of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony – which concluded Seattle Symphony’s current season – was unusually long and winding. And dark …
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Filed under: Ligeti, Ludovic Morlot, Mahler, review, Seattle Symphony

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