MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Rites of Earth: Music of John Luther Adams and Stravinsky at Carnegie Hall

John Luther Adams onstage at Carnegie Hall after the New York premiere of his ‘Vespers of the Blessed Earth’ by the Philadelphia Orchestra and The Crossing. (Photos by Chris Lee)

A most interesting concert at Carnegie Hall, pairing a new major work by John Luther Adams with the never-old Rite of Spring: my review for Classical Voice North America is now online.

NEW YORK — In late March, the front page of The New York Times announced the latest warning from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change under the headline “Earth Is Nearing The Tipping Point For A Hot Future.” It served as a grim contextual prelude to Vespers of the Blessed Earth, the latest work by John Luther Adams, which the Philadelphia Orchestra performed on its Carnegie Hall program March 31, a night after presenting the world premiere at its home base.


Filed under: Carnegie Hall, John Luther Adams, new music, Philadelphia Orchestra, Stravinsky

Rites of Ecstasy: Thomas Dausgaard Pairs Knockout Scores by Scriabin and Stravinsky


Thomas Dausgaard conducts the Seattle Symphony; photo (c) Carlin Ma

My review of the most recent program performed by Seattle Symphony under Thomas Dausgaard:

As Thomas Dausgaard continues along in his inaugural season as Seattle Symphony’s Music Director, it’s gratifying to see his intense rapport with the musicians expanding to different areas of the repertoire…


Filed under: Alexander Scriabin, review, Seattle Symphony, Stravinsky, Thomas Dausgaard

Seattle Symphony Performs Stravinsky’s Perséphone


Stravinsky’s Perséphone at Seattle Symphony in Michael Curry staging; photo by Brandon Patoc

My review of a very memorable evening with Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, and the visual artistry of Michael Curry:

Since its tepid première at the Paris Opera in 1934, Perséphone has remained among the most neglected of Stravinsky’s major scores, unable to find a comfortable home on the opera, ballet or concert stage.

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Filed under: Ludovic Morlot, review, Seattle Symphony, Stravinsky

Pairing Masterpieces by Shostakovich and Stravinsky


Here’s my new story for the Seattle Times on this week’s upcoming Seattle Symphony program:

On Jan. 28, 1936, Dmitri Shostakovich woke up to read a sternly worded condemnation of his music in the official Soviet newspaper, Pravda.

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Filed under: Seattle Symphony, Seattle Times, Shostakovich, Stravinsky

In C and in Sync: Delights from Morlot, Melnikov and the Seattle Symphony

Alexander Melnikov; © Arts Management Group

Alexander Melnikov; © Arts Management Group

A new Bachtrack review:

One unfortunate trend in how concert music is often marketed these days showers disproportionate attention on a ‘star’ soloist, who basks in the limelight and the obligatory standing ovations, as though the orchestra were merely the house ‘backup band’ graciously permitted to share the stage.

What a delight this concert was, in contrast, when Alexander Melnikov joined with the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot’s baton to reaffirm the unadulteratedly collaborative experience of a concerto.

Rather than a parade of quirks justified as ‘virtuosity’ or a psychogram of a performer’s dominating personality, the 41-year-old Russian pianist provided a deeply satisfying, richly musical account of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in C major. And much of that satisfaction came from the sympathy Melnikov, Morlot and the SSO found in their partnership.

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Filed under: Beethoven, Ludovic Morlot, Mozart, pianists, review, Seattle Symphony, Stravinsky

“Lament and Moaning of a Heart”

Igor Stravinsky and Charlie Chaplin

Igor Stravinsky and Charlie Chaplin

An apparent missing link in the development of the young Igor Stravinsky has been unearthed.

Titled Funeral Song (Pogrebal’naya Pesnya in Russian), the piece was written by the 26-year-old composer as a memorial to his recently deceased mentor Rimsky-Korsakov in 1908. After a single performance, the manuscript was never published and was long believed to have been irretrievably lost in the 1917 upheaval and its aftermath.

But it turned out to be hibernating amid a pile of old manuscripts gathering dust somewhere inside the St. Petersburg Conservatory.The Stravinsky authority Natalya Braginskaya described the find at hte International Musicological Society in St Petersburg early this month.

According to the eminent Stravinsky expert Stephen Walsh:

Stravinsky recalled it as one of his best early works, but could not remember the actual music.
Braginskaya, who has studied the orchestral parts (the full score has not turned up and will need reconstructing), describes “The Funeral Song” as a slow, unvarying processional with contrasting instrumental timbres: a dialogue of sonorities, very much as Stravinsky himself vaguely remembered it in his autobiography 25 years later. There are echoes of Rimsky-Korsakov, but also, she says, of Wagner, whose music Stravinsky admired more than he was later prepared to admit.

In his post on the find, Zachary Woolfe quotes from one of the reviews of the premiere (which predated Stravinsky’s sudden fame with The Firebird in Paris:

One critic described “the lament and moaning of a heart against the backdrop of a somber landscape,” while another chastised it for chilliness: “Better keep silence if losing a friend and teacher leaves us cold.”

Filed under: music news, Stravinsky

Life with the Stars


Filed under: photography, Stravinsky

Glorified One

Glorified One, Leo Kenney (1945)

Glorified One, Leo Kenney (1945)

I was intrigued by the Stravinsky connection in this painting, currently on display as part of Seattle Art Museum’s Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: The Mythic and the Mystical. Leo Kenney (1925-2001), a native of Spokane, belonged to the second generation of the Northwest School of painters.

He referred to “The Glorification of the Chosen One” section from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as the inspiration for Glorified One.

Writes the curator Patricia Junker: “Yet Kenney was well-versed in Christian scripture and might just as well have been invoking the idea of resurrection in the post-apocalyptic second coming of Christ. A creature appears to live within stone, the one remaining sign of life in a landscape of complete destruction, perhaps a symbol of hope — or it may represent the final sacrifice to plead for peace and renewal.”

The enormous influence of Stravinsky’s score on other composers — which continues to this very moment — is well documented. Associations between this period of his work and the “primitivism” and Cubism of his colleague Pablo Picasso are also frequently discussed in a more general way (usually in terms of their putative influence on the music rather than the other direction). But I’m curious now about how the music of Sacre specifically influenced particular visual artists. Any other candidates?

Filed under: art exhibition, painters, Stravinsky

Seattle Symphony’s Stravinsky Marathon

A costume sketch by Léon Bakst for The Costume sketch by Léon Bakst for The Firebird

Costume sketch by Léon Bakst for The Firebird

My review of the Seattle Symphony’s final concert of the season:

The past few months have brought the ensemble far more exposure than usual (an appearance at Carnegie Hall, a concert for the League of American Orchestras, the launch of an in-house label): its appetite for new challenges seems unstoppable.

So it’s hardly surprising that music director Ludovic Morlot is concluding the current season with an all-out marathon of orchestral virtuosity. The program of Stravinsky’s three pre-First World War ballet scores for the Ballets Russes in their entirety lasts close to three hours and, out of necessity for the players, requires two intermissions. It drew what appeared to be a close-to-packed house.

No matter how well we think we know this music, the opportunity to hear the young Stravinsky’s three iconic ballets back to back is bound to prompt new perspectives. And Morlot’s deeply sensitive interpretation of the uncut, sumptuous score for The Firebird (1910) did precisely that – all the more so since, only two weeks before, he’d led the SSO in the complete Daphnis et Chloé, also for the Ballets Russes, which was premiered in 1912, the year between Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).

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Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony, Stravinsky

Ballets Russes: “When Art Danced with Music”


Time to get in the mood for this weekend’s final subscription concerts of the Seattle Symphony’s season — and Ludovic Morlot has planned one hell of a program, with all three of Stravinsky’s blockbuster pre-WW I ballets.

I’m recalling the National Gallery of Art’s thought-provoking exhibition Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music last fall. The show gave a dazzling overall impression of the many different areas of creativity that the wizard Serge Diaghilev somehow managed to draw together (not without a massive amount of drama): composers, writers, painters, sculptors, costume and set designers, lighting artists, researchers, propagandists, and naturally musicians and dancers.

Diaghilev’s brain itself must have been a Gesamtkunstwerk. This was the way to out-Wagner Wagner, and Stravinsky certainly intended to do that.

The exhibition also probed into future connections, the way these artists set currents in motion that would give birth to Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism.

The always-brilliant Philip Kennicott points out that “the legend of the Ballets Russes was always a bit better — and better tended — than the reality of what the troupe and its lead artists left behind.” He offers this handy summary of what the lasting impact of the Ballet Russes as a crucible of experiment:

In less than two decades’ time, one sees the invention of something so familiar we take it for granted, the free mixing of commercial entertainment and more traditional forms of art, the valorization of branding and fashion within the intellectual realms of culture, and the troubling, persistent and essential fracturing of art into style and substance.

And it’s important to realize how much of Diaghilev’s legend became linked to the power of celebrity:

Much of what is on display falls into the category of holy relics: Costumes worn by dancers who are legendary names; programs and photographs and publicity posters from tours of the company that are still spoken of in reverential terms by those who remember or knew someone who was there. Theater, including ballet, invites hero worship, and there are many objects in this exhibition that appeal to our celebrity pleasure receptors more than our artistic ones.


[T]hat’s the difference between performance and the plastic arts. The allure of the former is all about the moment, the luck of being present, the willful illusion that magic is happening. Diaghilev sold that dream, perhaps more effectively than any impresario before or since.

Filed under: art exhibition, ballet, Seattle Symphony, Stravinsky

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