MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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

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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…

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

Breaths of Fresh Air: The Seattle Symphony Premieres Olga Neuwirth

Last night’s concert was the first chance I’ve had to experience Thomas Dausgaard in action with the Seattle Symphony since his inaugural season as music director began. Even with just a fraction of the players onstage for the entire first half (and a modest-sized orchestra for the second), this was music-making on a very high level. There was no fall-back on routine — which might easily have been the case, in view of the presence of two ultra-familiar works anchoring the program: the fourth of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Mozart’s final Symphony, the so-called (though not by the composer) “Jupiter.”

What gave the programming an edge was the inclusion, side-by-side with the Bach, of a new work by the Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth titled Aello – ballet mécanomorphe. Dausgaard led its world premiere in Stockholm last year, with flutist Claire Chase as the soloist and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (which he helmed until starting his SSO tenure this fall). Neuwirth was one of six contemporary composers commissioned by Dausgaard and the SCO to write new response works that somehow react to the Brandenburg Concertos. (For the record, the others include Uri Caine, Brett Dean, Anders Hillborg, Steven Mackey, and Mark Anthony Turnage — the whole project was presented at the 2018 BBC Proms [see video above].)

The Seattle Symphony had the honor of giving Aello‘s U.S. premiere — and, it is to be hoped, will continue pursuing the music of this boldly imaginative, singular, uncompromising composer. Neuwirth is at last gaining long-overdue recognition. She was a key presence at the recent Musikfest Berlin
(where I had a chance to hear Susanne Mälkki conduct the young Karajan Akademie musicians in Aello, with Berlin Philharmonic principal Emmanuel Pahud as the soloist).

Neuwirth’s commission was to write a companion piece to be paired with the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major (BWV 1049), using essentially the same chamber ensemble. Except she replaces Bach’s soloist trio of violin and two flutes (or flute-like instruments) with a solo flute as protagonist. Her counterparts are a pair of trumpets (one piccolo) that play with various mutes — taking on the role of the Bach flutes. (The doubleness of the latter come back as well in the flute soloist’s alternation between her “normal” instrument and a bass flute for the final movement.)

As “continuo,” Neuwirth substitutes a multiple-personality “harpsichord” comprising a synthesizer and a percussionist (Michael Werner) who plays a mechanical typewriter (the score specifies an “Oilivetti Lettera 22” model, which is amplified), a triangle made to resound with an automatic milk foamer, and a water-filled glass pitched to a high E. And even the string ensemble is “de-natured” by the complex multiple tuning system Neuwirth establishes for the whole ensemble (including the solists), with four layers of different pitchings.

Claire Chase, the score’s dedicatee, is a widely acclaimed musical adventurer who has built her solo career around expanding the potential for her instrument. Neuwirth avails herself not only of Chase’s extraordinary musicianship but of her stage charisma as well. The flutist’s performance last night cast a spell with her commanding gusts and mysterious whisperings, egging on the motley trumpet sounds and breaking free from the ensemble’s attempts at hegemony.

As she nimbly — indeed, balletically — turned and twisted, Chase’s compelling stage presence seemed to conjure an oracle, at times blissful, at others demonic in its aura. Aello actually refers to an ancient Greek harpy, but Neuwirth subverts the sexist image by making her mythical being into “someone sent by the gods to restore peace, if necessary with force, and to exact punishment for crimes.”

Similarly, the “macho” personae of Baroque trumpets is tamed and, as it were, Dada-fied through the mutes and the resultant kaleidoscope of colors (Neuwirth herself studied trumpet). The legacy of Dada — its absurdist play with machines and “stuff,” with the mechanical aspects of modernity — is another important influence on Neuwirth’s aesthetic.

There were some muffled gasps and giggles from the audience, reacting to the absurdist humor of the piece — yet Aello is by no means a simple “parody” of the Bach companion (neither in the usual sense of the word nor even the Baroque sense).

Neuwirth follows Bach’s three-movement design and quotes snippets of his motifs and melodies, but these appear more as vanishing recollections of a musical world that no longer makes sense. Along with the playfulness, there are moments of mesmerizing mystery — above all in the slow middle movement, which approaches the ethereal — and even of terror. Neuwirth’s sense of pacing is superb — no wonder she has a flair for the stage and for film scoring. She dramatizes a remarkable attempted coup by the ensemble in the final moments that is thwarted, once again, by the flute-goddess’s knowing breath.

Dausgaard led a (mostly) standing ensemble in the Fourth Brandenburg itself to start the program and set the stage for Aello. Claire Chase joined principal flutist Demarre McGill and concertmaster Noah Geller to form the solo group. All of them listened intently to their fellow musicians and responded with in-the-moment honesty. Dazzlingly stylish and refined, Geller gave the insanely difficult violin cadenzas the elan of breakout jazz solos. I especially relished the mingled “mega-flute” colorations McGill and Chase created as their lines bobbed and wove together.

The Mozart sounded … BIG in comparison to the chamber delicacy of the first half (Baroque and Dadaish alike). I would have preferred a slightly less beefed-up string section. Dausgaard mostly succeeded in keeping balances beautifully weighted, but Mozart’s wind writing was at moments a tad lacking in presence because of the wall of string sound.

Still, the Danish maestro enjoys an inspiring rapport with the SSO, and everyone was on high alert to deliver. He even pulled a few Arthur Nikisch moments, in which he conducted using nothing but his eyebrows. Dausgaard approached the “Jupiter” as a proto-Beethovenian epic, exploiting explosive accents (with dynamic contributions from James Benoit on timpani) and delineating a sense of musical travel, above all in the outer movements.

He obviously possesses a fantastic ear, and the ability to coax microsecond readjustments, so that rich, unexpected colors emerged — most wondrously, in the veiled murkiness he elicited from the slow movement’s harmonic clouds. Mozart’s pauses became a powerful theatrical device through which he drew intriguing connections between the first two movements, the one Apollonian in majesty, its cantabile counterpart an Orphic reverie.

Mozart famously performs his own retoolings of Bach (and Handel) in many of his late period works: the “Jupiter” finale is glorious exemplary. Dausgaard kept the architecture cleanly in view without dampening the visceral excitement.

The program will be repeated on Saturday 12 October at 8pm. And Claire Chase performs in recital tonight at 7.30pm at Octave 9.

Review (c)2019 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: Olga Neuwirth, review, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Thomas Dausgaard Starts the Seattle Symphony Season

Tonight in Seattle, new Music Director Thomas Dausgaard begins his tenure with an opening night program of Carl Nielsen, Richard Strauss, and Sergei Rachmaninoff, with Daniil Trifonov as the soloist in the Russian composer’s Fourth Piano Concerto. I’m not able to be there for the opening but look forward to reporting on Dausgaard’s work with the orchestra later in the fall.

Meanwhile, you can listen to the conductor’s rapport with Strauss on the new SSO release, which includes an account of the Alpine Symphony from performances in June 2017 (which I reviewed here), as well as the prelude to the opera Antichrist by fellow Dane Rued Langgaard.

Filed under: Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Seattle Symphony Announces 2019-20 Season

As part of its inaugural season under new Music Director Thomas Dausgaard, Seattle Symphony has just announced an impressive and inspiring lineup of 25 living composers: John Adams, Eddie Mora Bermúdez, Anna Clyne, Chick Corea, Charles Corey, Anthony DiLorenzo, Reena Esmail, Janice Giteck, Daniel Kidane, Elena Langer, Hannah Lash, Flo Menezes, Olga Neuwirth, Juan David Osorio, Angelique Poteat, Huang Ruo, David Sampson, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, Kate Soper, Bent Sørensen, Tyshawn Sorey, Conrad Tao, Lotta Wennäkoski, Ryan Wigglesworth, and the 2020 Celebrate Asia Composition Competition winner.

Composer-in-residence Tyshawn Sorey will write a Cello Concerto for artist-in-residence Seth Parker Woods. Other SSO commissions: Reena Esmail’s Sitar Concerto — which promises to be a highlight of the season, given her inspired work to date — Elena Langer’s Figaro Gets a Divorce Suite, Hannah Lash’s Double Harp Concerto, and Angelique Poteat’s Cello Concerto, and pieces by Charles Corey and Janice Giteck. (Concertos clearly remain one of the most popular orchestral genres contemporary composers seem to prefer.)

I’m less excited about yet another Rachmaninoff concerto festival — but tickets do need to be sold — and we’ll have to see how the obligatory Beethoven Festival for the 2020 anniversary year works out. I do like juxtaposition of the symphonies with several of the above-mentioned commissions.

And there will be plenty of upcoming news about the soon-to-open Octave 9 project.

The complete press release can be found here.

Filed under: season programming, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony Take on an Early Sibelius Epic

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photo: Brandon Patoc

My review for Bachtrack of Thomas Dausgaard and the Seattle Symphony in Sibelius’s Kullervo:
On 28 April 1892, when he was only 26, Jean Sibelius unveiled Kullervo to the public. Its triumph established both his career as a composer and his reputation as Finland’s musical bard…

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Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius, Thomas Dausgaard

Thomas Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony in an All-Brahms Concert

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Thomas Dausgaard conducts the Seattle Symphony in a Brahms program at Benaroya Hall. (Brandon Patoc)

My review of last night’s program for The Seattle Times:

For a glimpse of the music of the future in Seattle, head down to Benaroya Hall this weekend to experience Thomas Dausgaard in action….

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Filed under: Brahms, review, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Times, Thomas Dausgaard

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

Thomas Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony Climb Strauss’ Magic Mountain

“I am the last mountain of a large mountain range,” declared Richard Strauss towards the end of his life. Thursday night’s Seattle Symphony program, led by Principal Guest Conductor Thomas Dausgaard, combined the metaphorical mountain-climbing the composer depicted in Eine Alpensinfonie with the Four Last Songs.

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Filed under: review, Richard Strauss, Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

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