MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Sibelius at the Piano

“For one thing — and, given the era, it was no small achievement — Sibelius never wrote against the grain of the keyboard. At its best, his style partook of that spare, bleak, motivically stingy counterpoint that nobody south of the Baltic ever seems to write.” –Glenn Gould

Filed under: piano, Sibelius

A Primer in the Romantic Spirit from Seattle Symphony

khachatryan-12Sergey Khachatryan. Image courtesy of Seattle Symphony.

My review of this weekend’s Seattle Symphony program with Ludovic Morlot and violinist Sergey Khachatryan is now live on Vanguard Seattle:

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO)’s sixth season with Music Director Ludovic Morlot has so far included a pair of electrifying programs that paired world premiere commissions by composers of today with Beethoven classics—the latter part of an ongoing two-year cycle of the composer’s complete symphonies and piano concertos.

continue reading

Filed under: Berlioz, Ludovic Morlot, review, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Vanguard Seattle

Happy 150th, Jean Sibelius!

Fittingly, in December:

Filed under: Sibelius

Sibelius and Mahler at the NSO

mahler_138     sibelius

This week’s National Symphony program pairs Sibelius and Mahler, with Christoph Eschenbach conducting.

Here’s a debate from the Talk Classical site pitting the two composers against each other as symphonists:

Two of the greatest symphonists of the 20th century…but who is greater?

Sibelius and Mahler both took on the symphony with quite different philosophies. In their famous exchange, Sibelius said: ” I admire the symphony’s style and severity of form, as well as the profound logic creating an inner connection among all of the motives,” whereas Mahler said: “The symphony is like the world; it must embrace everything.”

Who is right here? Both? Neither?

As an admirer of both symphonists, my vote goes to Sibelius. While Sibelius’s seven symphonies often lack a sort of “hysteria” and hyper-emotion that one encouters in Mahler, his works can still certainly elicit strong emotional responses. And he does this within fairly strict means, concentrating the musical rhetoric so every theme, phrase, motive and note seems to be concentrated with meaning.

Plus, Sibelius seems to have a masterful handle on the symphonic form, which I think is important here. A symphony is not a suite or a rhapsody; it, by its very definition, has rules and conventions. Sibelius seems to take the symphony head on and make music that adheres to the “severity of style.” whereas Mahler seems to go more rhapsodic and bend the rules quite a bit more.

Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with that; again, I love Mahler’s symphonies. But from a technical standpoint, Sibelius seems to understand symphonic form much better.

Obviously, there are no right or wrong answers here; not one of us can say definitively who is the greater. But I think a civil and respectful discussion on this would be most interesting!

continue reading

Filed under: Mahler, National Symphony, Sibelius

Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Festival: Part III

Thomas Dausgaard

Thomas Dausgaard; photo (c) Morten Abrahamsen

My review of the final program in Seattle Symphony’s just-completed Sibelius Festival is now live at Musical America. The program included Symphonies 5-7. It’s a subscriber site with a paywall, so I can’t post more than the teaser here:

SEATTLE—-At the beginning of his  journey through the seven symphonies of Jean Sibelius, Thomas Dausgaard hinted at the big picture Seattle Symphony audiences could expect: “These works are about a search for the essentials…

complete review

Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius

Concluding the Sibelius Festival in Seattle

sibelius

With the strings leaning in to one of the most powerfully orchestrated C major chords of the 20th century, the Seattle Symphony’s ambitious Luminous Landscapes Sibelius Festival has reached its conclusion. (There’s also a curious Nachtisch to this week’s final program: after the orchestra players cleared the stage on Thursday, we were treated to a mini-recital of nine Sibelius lieder, with soprano/pianists Maria Männistö and Christina Siemens alternating roles.)

For fellow music lovers (and Sibelius completists) who’d been present for all three programs this past month, there was an added sense of satisfying closure that was maybe, just maybe, a bit reminiscent of being with a Ring audience at Seattle Opera as the final chord of Götterdämmerung fades out.

On Sunday you can listen to the entire marathon via the KING FM Seattle Symphony Channel, KING FM 98.1’s new collaborative project with the SSO. On March 29 the marathon starts at 12:01 a.m. with a looping 24-hour stream of the seven symphonies, the Violin Concerto (with soloist Pekka Kuusisto), and Finlandia — all with Thomas Dausgaard conducting, recorded live from the past month’s performances.

My previous coverage of the Sibelius Festival:

review of Sibelius Program I for Bachtrack

review of Sibelius Program II for Musical America

review of Sibelius Festival Program III for Musical America

And a glance at San Francisco Symphony’s recent “Creation” program, which included the composer’s fascinating, brief tone poem Luonnotar.

We’re still early in this 150th anniversary year honoring Sibelius. The birthday itself falls in December — which somehow seems just right for a composer so associated with Northern landscapes. Many orchestras have therefore planned Sibelius-related programs for the coming season as well. But the Seattle Symphony is the only U.S. orchestra to have performed an entire Sibelius symphony cycle back-to-back to mark the anniversary. It’s been a genuinely laudable artistic milestone for the ensemble.

Filed under: programming, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius

Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Festival: Part II

Pekka Kuusisto; photo (c) Kaapo Kamu

Pekka Kuusisto; photo (c) Kaapo Kamu

My review of the second program of the Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Festival has now been posted on Musical America. MA is a subscriber site, so I’m limited to posting the link here:

The Seattle Symphony has been on a winning streak of synchronicity when it comes to favorably timed good news. Last year [Musical America Composer of the Year] John Luther Adams’s…

continue reading (The full review appears behind Musical America‘s subscriber paywall.)

Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius

Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Festival: Part I

Thomas Dausgaard; (c) Morten Abrahamsen

Thomas Dausgaard; (c) Morten Abrahamsen

My latest review is now posted on Bachtrack:

Only a few orchestras around the world have programmed a complete cycle of Sibelius symphonies this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The Berlin Philharmonic just completed its traversal under Sir Simon Rattle last month (in Berlin and London), and the Seattle Symphony – the only orchestra in the U.S. to undertake all seven symphonies in back-to-back programming for the jubilee year – embarked on its Sibelian marathon Thursday evening.

continue reading

Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR