MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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

What’s Happening to Seattle Symphony’s Thomas Dausgaard?

Seattle Symphony just announced that Thomas Dausgaard, who was reportedly unable to join his orchestra for last weekend’s much-anticipated gala concert and comeback to live performance, has been “further delayed due to pandemic restrictions.” As the official press release phrases it: “Due to continued and unavoidable governmental delays, the Seattle Symphony’s Music Director Thomas Dausgaard is unable to join the orchestra for his originally scheduled Delta Air Lines Masterworks Series concerts in October.”

Why the “continued and unavoidable governmental delays” when other artists have successfully managed the paperwork and roadblocks? Are they really unavoidable?

Here’s the complete wording of the press release:

Seattle, WA — Due to continued and unavoidable governmental delays, the Seattle Symphony’s Music Director Thomas Dausgaard is unable to join the orchestra for his originally scheduled Delta Air Lines Masterworks Series concerts in October.

As Dausgaard’s work visa process continues to be severely stalled due to COVID-19-related travel issues, the Seattle Symphony has confirmed two renowned guest conductors as substitutes. Eight-time Grammy winner Giancarlo Guerrero will take to the podium on October 7 and 9 for vibrant concerts that include Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Arturo Márquez’s Fandango, a new violin concerto featuring revered soloist Anne Akiko Meyers. Meyers will be performing instead of the previously announced violinist, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, who also encountered pandemic travel restrictions. Music lovers can also stream the October 7 concert on Seattle Symphony Live. Then, on October 14 and 16, Stefan Asbury will make his Seattle Symphony debut for a performance featuring soprano and composer Adeliia Faizullina and her Tatar Folk Songs, which won the Seattle Symphony’s 2020 Celebrate Asia Composition Competition.

Filed under: music news, Seattle Symphony

Seattle Opera Returns with an Abridged Concert Walküre

Saturday evening, 28 August, at Seattle Center, starting at 7pm, Seattle Opera returns to performance with a live audience with a “Welcome Back Concert” consisting of highlights from Die Walküre. More than 2,000 people are expected to attend this special outdoor opera performance, which I’m chagrined I will have to miss.

It’s sold out but jumbo screens will allow anyone who strolls down to the Seattle Center Campus to enjoy the performance at various non-ticketed areas.

The cast: Angela MeadeEric OwensAlexandra LoBianco (most recently Seattle Opera’s Tosca), Raymond Aceto, and Brandon Jovanovich. The Seattle Symphony Orchestra will be led by the group’s former leader Maestro Ludovic Morlot.

Filed under: Ludovic Morlot, music news, Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony

Nicholas McGegan with Seattle Symphony

The wonderful Nicholas McGegan pays a visit to the Seattle Symphony podium in this live concert of Bach and Schubert. (Video above is from the April 26 concert, with Farkhad Khudyev conducting Schumann.) The program (available to watch through May 20):

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH    Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major, BWV 1066

Overture
Courante
Gavotte I & II
Forlane
Menuet I & II
Bourrée I & II
Passepied I & II

FRANZ SCHUBERT    Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, D. 485

Allegro
Andante con moto
Menuetto: Allegro molto
Allegro vivace

Filed under: Nicholas McGegan, Seattle Symphony

Hannah Kendall Returns to Seattle Symphony

My latest story for The Seattle Times:

Two of the most famous names in the classical canon — Beethoven and Ravel — appear on the program for Seattle Symphony’s upcoming livestream on Feb. 25. But the concert’s opening work was written by a composer, currently 36 years old, whose boldly individual, exquisitely crafted music sounds completely at home in their company…

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And some excerpts that got cut from the published version:

 In addition to her orchestral music, Jonathon Heywqrd conducted the Royal Opera House production of “The Knife of Dawn” and has been entrusted with the premiere of her opera-in-progress “Tan-Tan and Dry Bone.” The new opera is based on an Afrofuturist story and is being written for the experimental vocalist and movement artist Elaine Michener.  

Heyward points out that Kendall’s gifts as a storyteller echo Ravel and his ability in the Mother Goose Suite “to encapsulate vivid worlds through texture.” With Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, which will feature Seattle favorite Conrad Tao as the soloist, he emphasizes the role of the very short slow movement and its powerful contrast with “this gargantuan first movement and jubilant finale.The sense of stillness, of time stopping here, is another thing that Hannah does amazingly in her work.”

Filed under: Hannah Kendall, new music, Seattle Symphony

Seth Parker Woods and Seattle Symphony Premiere Tyshawn Sorey’s For Roscoe Mitchell

Cellist Seth Parker Woods and the Seattle Symphony with David Robertson conducting; image (c) James Holt

I reviewed the world premiere of Tyshawn Sorey’s extraordinary new Seattle Symphony commission for Musical America. Here’s a longer version of the opening paragraphs (including some details that had to be cut for length):

Like an artfully spliced film sequence, the highlight of Seattle Symphony’s concert on November 19 seemed to bridge the painful months separating us from the pre-COVID-19 era. Tyshawn Sorey’s For Roscoe Mitchell for cello and orchestra transmitted all the excitement that comes with a “normal” world premiere of an important composition.

The account featuring Seth Parker Woods as the soloist and guest conductor David Robertson on the podium cast such a powerful and lasting spell that I occasionally forgot this was an online stream. Performing live in real time from the Benaroya concert hall, the musicians felt more present than is usually the case in the virtual medium.

The initial round of shutdowns in the spring had cheated us of hearing the piece as originally intended: in the context of a Beethoven festival juxtaposing several new commissions with a complete symphony cycle, which had been planned as last season’s culmination. Sorey’s new work is his first SSO commission and the final project envisioned by former vice president of artistic planning Elena Dubinets before her lamented departure from the organization. 

In September, SSO began a new online season, using its own streaming service, Seattle Symphony Live, as a platform to disseminate live performances from its home concert hall (sans audience). For Roscoe Mitchell barely escaped a second postponement. This concert was the last event allowed to proceed before new statewide mandates for Washington caused all remaining 2020 concerts to be canceled.  

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Filed under: commissions, Seattle Symphony, Seth Parker Woods, Tyshawn Sorey

Ludovic Morlot Returns to Seattle Symphony

Watch Ludovic Morlot’s reunion with Seattle Symphony on Thursday 5 November at 7.30pm PT. You can watch the livestream on Seattle Symphony Live* here.

The program includes THOMAS ADÈS/Three Studies from Couperin; DEBUSSY: Danses sacrée et profane; MARTIN/Ballade for Flute and Orchestra; and HONEGGER/ Symphony No. 2.

*Monthly passes to Seattle Symphony Live are $12.99/month  and include a free 7-day trial with no commitment required. 

Filed under: Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony

Seattle Symphony Musicians Furloughed

Another disappointing development in the Covid-19 era American orchestral landscape. Brendan Kiley reported this evening in the Seattle Times that the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s management has decided to furlough three-quarters of its 250-person staff temporarily, bringing it down to 58.

The 88 SSO musicians will enter a temporary furlough projected to last from April 13 to June 1.

According to Kiley: “The decision was reached in negotiation with the musicians’ union — ‘a joint resolution,’ said SSO CEO Krishna Thiagarajan. “That’s really important — we want musicians to get the credit.'”

Fortunately, SSO will continue to provide health insurance coverage for everyone.

Kiley adds: “SSO has not yet seen any relief funding, either from the federal government or local, arts-specific measures — and, Thiagarajan added, they probably wouldn’t have come fast enough to alleviate the organization’s immediate needs.”

In another, more promising development: the National Symphony Orchestra musicians have reached an agreement with Kennedy Center management to take a 35% pay cut rather than an outright furlough, as reported here by The New York Times.

All hell broke lose last month when it was announced that Kennedy Center management planned to deal with the crisis by furloughing the musicians “for an undetermined amount of time so as to address the financial shortfalls from the coronavirus pandemic,” as Julia Jacobs reported. Following as this decision did on the allocation of $25 million for the Kennedy Center as part of the federal emergency stimulus package, the announcement sparked widespread outrage — and was used like red meat to stir up the anti-art frenzy of the MAGA base. That base, however, may have appreciated the quintessentially Trumpian tactics of announcing a unilateral furlough in the first place.

According to Peggy McGlone’s report in The Washington Post, “the musicians [said] they were blindsided” by the original announcement of the furlough. “They said they had contacted NSO Executive Director Gary Ginstling to negotiate some cuts but didn’t hear back. Instead, [Kennedy Center President Deborah] Rutter informed them that they would be furloughed [after April 3] until the arts center reopened.”

Fortunately, a more equitable process of grievance resolution was subsequently pursued: “Ed Malaga, president of American Federation of Musicians Local 161-710, said the musicians were pleased to resolve the grievance and avoid furloughs,” according to McGlone.

Filed under: music news, National Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony

Octave 9: New Letter from Seattle for Gramophone

Octave-9-Seth Parker Woods and Friends in Difficult Grace

Seth Parker Woods and Friends in Difficult Grace at Seattle Symphony’s Octave 9.

It’s been very difficult trying to think about anything other than the Covid-19 pandemic. Already several loved ones have become ill with the disease, and one admired acquaintance has died.

With so much angst and sorrow, we are only 10 days into the state of emergency declared for Washington State, while other areas — in the unconscionable absence of federal guidance and leadership — are recklessly carrying on as usual.

Here’s what now seems a surreal glance back to happier times, which I wrote only a little over a month ago for Gramophone magazine’s April issue: some thoughts on Seth Parker Woods, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, and Gidon Kremer at Seattle Symphony’s Octave 9 space.


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Filed under: Gramophone, Octave 9, Seattle Symphony, Seth Parker Woods

Weekend Concert Tips in Seattle

SethParkerWoods_880x250

If you’re in the Seattle are, there’s a lot to choose from this weekend. One more chance to catch the incomparable violinist Gidon Kremer, who has become a major champion of the long-neglected Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-96). Earlier this week, Kremer gave an intimate performance at Octave 9, playing his transcriptions of half of Weinberg’s 24 Preludes for Solo Cello as well as his vast First Sonata for solo violin and the Bach D minor Chaconne.

Under Dausgaard’s baron, he will perform Weinberg’s Violin Concerto (from 1960) again on Saturday evening. Last night’s account was a major discovery, leaving me moved, thrilled, enraptured–and hungry for more. Weinberg is routinely compared to Shostakovich (same thing happens to Galina Ustvolskaya), but for all the superficial resemblances, I was drawn to Weinberg’s distinctive lyricism and the pockets of hopefulness he weaves into this score. It delighted me no end that Kremer chose what I immediately selected as my favorite of the Preludes for his encore.

The rest of the program was magnificent: Dausgaard mixed rich oil with theatrical flair in the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture — Tchaikovsky’s early breakthrough — and brought out many a smile from the musicians in a heartfelt, vibrant, even deliriously unbuttoned interpretation of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. SSO principal flutist Demarre McGill’s exquisite solos alone negated any excuse to miss this.

Sunday brings a real feast. Octave 9, which has been on overdrive lately with not-to-be-missed concerts, will present one of the most compelling young cellists at work today: Seth Parker Woods, in a program titled Difficult Grace. The teaser reads: “Inspired by Dudley Randall’s poem “Primitives,” this interactive concert features five world premieres and one Seattle premiere by Monty Adkins, Nathalie Joachim, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, Fredrick Gifford, Ryan Carter and Freida Abtan. ‘Difficult Grace’ showcases an array of visual art and music by some of today’s most imaginative storytellers.”

Parker Woods is also a brilliant curator, so there’s bound to be some excellent discoveries here. More background on the cellist.

Elsewhere in the Benaroya Hall complex on Sunday evening, Byron Schenkman & Friends will perform a program enticingly titled Baroque Bacchanalia. The wonderful harpsichordist Byron Schenkman has curated an evening of selections on mythological themes by Bernier, Campra, Jacquet, and Rebel, with bass-baritone (and composer) Jonathan Woody as the featured vocalist.

Earlier on Sunday, Early Music Seattle presents a semi-staged production of Vivaldi’s Motezuma at Town Hall. This version was reconstructed and reimagined by Matthias Maute, music director of the Montreal-based Ensemble Caprice Music Director. The Other Conquest, a response to Vivaldi’s colonialist distortions by composer Héctor Armienta and Seattle poet Raúl Sánchez, is being presented Saturday evening (free of charge) at Broadway Performance Hall.

Also Sunday afternoon: Temple de Hirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill (1441 16th Ave) is presenting a free concert at 2pm featuring pianist Judith Cohen, SSO clarinetist Eric Jacobs, and violinist Hal Grossman. Their program is titled Bernstein, Copland, Bloch, & Gershwin: Legendary Jewish Composers of the 20th Century. I’m especially looking forward to hearing Copland’s Vitebsk Trio, a study in quarter-tones from 1929. The concert is actually just one of a weekend-long series of events at Temple de Hirsch Sinai celebrating Shabbat Shirah (Shabbat of Song).

Filed under: Byron Schenkman, Gidon Kremer, music news, Seattle Symphony, Seth Parker Woods, Thomas Dausgaard

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