MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

‘I’m always looking for something new’: Midori in The Strad

February’s issue of The Strad includes my new profile of Midori, in which I take stock of the violinist on the 40th anniversary of her professional debut. Along with Midori’s reflections on her priorities, I include observations by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Derek Bermel, and Michael Stern.

link to article (subscription required)

Filed under: profile, violinists

An Electrified Concerto Zaps Violin Tradition With Cosmic Fantasy

Pekka Kuusisto was the soloist in Enrico Chapela’s ‘Antiphaser,’ a concerto for electric violin and orchestra, with the Seattle Symphony under Andrew Litton. (Photos by Brandon Patoc)

My review of Enrico Chapela’s new violin concerto, Antiphaser, which Pekka Kuusisto premiered on Thursday with the Seattle Symphony under guest conductor Andrew Litton:

It’s been nearly a year since Thomas Dausgaard’s abrupt departure as the Seattle Symphony’s music director, but the projects initiated under his tenure and delayed by the pandemic continue to make their way to the Benaroya Hall stage. The latest of these is Antiphaser, a concerto for electric violin and orchestra by the Mexican composer Enrico Chapela. Trading his 1709 “Scotta” Stradivari for an electronically amplified instrument, Pekka Kuusisto joined the orchestra to perform the world premiere under the baton of Andrew Litton on Nov. 3….

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Filed under: commissions, review, Seattle Symphony, violinists

Hilary Hahn and Alpesh Chauhan at Seattle Symphony

Hilary Hahn, Alpesh Chauhan and the Seattle Symphony (c) Brandon Patoc

Hilary Hahn and Brahms were the big name draws, but Seattle Symphony’s program introduced a remarkable guest conductor who made a powerful impact.

My review for Bachtrack:

If Hilary Hahn restored a sense of continuity with familiar, and essential, musical values, the audience that packed Benaroya Hall for her return engagement with Seattle Symphony also had a wonderful surprise in store with guest conductor Alpesh Chauhan’s debut …

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Filed under: conductors, review, Seattle Symphony, violinists

RIP Geoff Nuttall (1965–2022)

Geoff Nuttall in 2019; photo by Leigh Webber

Devastating news that Geoff Nuttall has passed away. The beloved violinist and founder of the St. Lawrence String Quartet died today at his home in California at the age of 56. He had been undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.

The Spoleto Festival USA , where Nuttall was Director of Chamber Music, released the following press announcement:

October 19, 2022 — Violinist, music education advocate, and Spoleto Festival USA Charles E. and Andrea L. Volpe Director of Chamber Music Geoff Nuttall died today at home in California where he was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. He was 56.

From center stage of Charleston’s historic Dock Street Theatre, Nuttall hosted the Festival’s iconic chamber music concerts since 2010, drawing enthusiastic audiences whose devout attendance owed as much to the series’ programming as the dynamism of its host and star performer. As director, he curated each of the 33 annual concerts and performed on many as a violinist and founding member of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Spoleto’s quartet-in-residence, for more than 25 years.

Nuttall began playing the violin at age 8 after moving from Texas to Ontario, Canada. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, where he studied under Lorand Fenyves. Shortly after graduating, he co-founded the St. Lawrence String Quartet in 1989. The ensemble swiftly received top prizes at the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Young Concert Artist Auditions, becoming a fixture at some of North America’s most celebrated festivals and concert halls.

St. Lawrence String Quartet is also ensemble-in-residence at Stanford University, where Nuttall served on the music faculty since 1999. With the quartet and as a solo artist, Nuttall played more than 2,000 concerts worldwide to critical acclaim, and was lauded as “intensely dynamic,” with “stunning technique and volatility” (The New York Times).

Nuttall was named to his role at Spoleto by longtime Festival chamber music director and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center founder Charles Wadsworth, who first invited Nuttall and the St. Lawrence String Quartet to Spoleto in 1995. Like his predecessor, Nuttall amassed a robust following—audience members who forged a strong connection to Nuttall’s onstage charisma.

The New York Times labeled him “chamber music’s Jon Stewart,” describing Nuttall as a “creatively daring, physically talented performer who can go goofball in a nanosecond, maintaining a veneer of entertainment while educating his base about serious matters…he is subtly redefining what a chamber music concert can be.”

Part of Nuttall’s genius as series host could be found in his pre-performance banter; engaging the audience in revelatory musical learning—facts about the composer or themes to anticipate. While this type of commentary has become de rigueur in many chamber music concert settings, Nuttall’s approach captivated novice listeners and experts alike.

Nuttall’s fervor for the music inspired colleagues both on and offstage. The sense of camaraderie Nuttall created between visiting artists contributed to a celebratory spirit felt in each concert, and a palpable camaraderie among players. He provided a platform for young musicians and composers to flourish. In recent years, next generation titans, including Benjamin Beilman, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Jennifer Frautschi, Arlen Hlusko, James Austin Smith, Paul Wiancko, and JACK Quartet, have appeared onstage in Charleston.

In addition to recording works by such composers as Schumann, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky, Nuttall and the St. Lawrence String Quartet were dedicated to the music of Joseph Haydn. In 2020, they were featured on the PBS Great Performances series, “Now Hear This,” in an episode that chronicled the composer’s life and work. Nuttall was also a steadfast champion of contemporary composers. He frequently worked with John Adams, Jonathan Berger, and Osvaldo Golijov—and received a Grammy Award nomination for the recording of Golijov’s Yiddishbbuk.

His passion for new music discovery permeated Spoleto Festival USA’s programming. He often placed contemporary works amongst lesser-known pieces from the canon, and emphatically promoted the works of his players and close friends such as Mark Applebaum, Todd Palmer, Stephen Prutsman, Joshua Roman, and Paul Wiancko. In 2019, Nuttall explained his programming style to Charleston magazine: “My closest friends are constantly curious, and I hope my audiences will share my enthusiasm for curiosity.”

In his final days, his wife, the renowned violinist Livia Sohn, who also serves as Spoleto Festival USA Assistant Director of Chamber Music, asked Nuttall if he had any unfulfilled aspirations on his bucket list. With his characteristic humor and grace, Nuttall replied, “my life has been my bucket list.”

In addition to Sohn, Nuttall is survived by their children, Jack and Ellis, as well as his mother and sister.

STATEMENTS

Mena Mark Hanna, Spoleto Festival USA General Director and CEO: “This is a loss not just for Spoleto Festival USA, but for music lovers around the world. Geoff was classical music’s greatest showman, eliciting a rowdy, raucous reception to Haydn that would sound more at home in a club than a concert hall. He didn’t care if people were clapping between movements; he didn’t care that people wore shorts and sandals to performances; he didn’t care for the rigid social formalities that govern classical music performance. All he cared about was the communitarian, cathartic power of music. And because of that, he changed chamber music in America.”

Alicia Gregory, Chair of Spoleto Festival USA’s Board of Directors: “Within the remarkable constellation of international talent featured every year at Spoleto Festival USA, Geoff Nuttall was consistently one of its brightest stars. His virtuosic artistry, combined with his deft skill in connecting with both artists and audiences, created transcendent performances. He will be remembered as one of the finest classical musicians and curators of our time.” 

A celebration of Nuttall’s life and contributions to Spoleto Festival USA will be part of the 2023 chamber music program. 

Geoff was able to continue living his life as fully as possible under the outstanding and thoughtful care of Dr. Christopher Chen. Geoff’s family has created The Geoff Nuttall Memorial Fund to advance Dr. Chen’s cancer research at Stanford University. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a tax-deductible donation. Gifts can be made three ways: 1) Online atmemorial.stanford.edu by selecting “Other Stanford Designation” and entering The Geoff Nuttall Memorial Fund in the “Other” text box, 2) By check payable to Stanford University with The Geoff Nuttall Memorial Fund indicated on the memo line, mailed to Development Services, P.O. Box 20466, Stanford, CA 94309, or 3) By phone at 650-725-4360.

Filed under: music news, Spoleto Festival USA, violinists

Album Review: Sarah Plum’s Personal Noise

My latest review for Gramophone is of violinist/violist Sarah Plum‘s new release, Personal Noise:

A slim discography barely hints at violinist Sarah Plum’s prolific career as a ‘new music specialist’ but confirms her engagingly adventurous sensibility….

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Filed under: CD review, Gramophone, violinists

Reena Esmail’s Violin Concerto for Indian Violinist Kala Ramnath

Reena Esmail, Seattle Symphony’s composer in residence (Rachel Garcia)

ALSO NOTE: Tonight Friday night at 8pm, Reena Esmail curates a program at Seattle Symphony”s Octave 9 space with Kala Ramnath and SSO musicians, titled “Ragamala: A Journey into Hindustani Music.”

I had the pleasure of writing about the marvelous Reena Esmail and her new violin concerto for Hindustani violinist Kala Ramnath, which Seattle Symphony will premiere at the Celebrate Asia concert on Sunday, 20 March.

For its opening night concert last September, when the Seattle Symphony returned for its first full season since the pandemic struck, it was music by Reena Esmail that launched the program. She continues in her role as composer-in-residence with the world premiere of a newly commissioned violin concerto …

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Filed under: Reena Esmail, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Times, violinists

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

Tessa Lark and Andrew Armstrong at Cal Performances

Cal Performances at Home opens its season with a violin-piano recital by Tessa Lark and Andrew Armstrong on October 1 at 7pm PDT. The program includes:

BARTÓK (arr. Székely)Romanian Folk Dances
YSAŸESonata No. 5 for Solo Violin
SCHUBERTFantasy in C major, D. 934
GRIEGViolin Sonata No. 3 in C minor
RAVELTzigane

I had the pleasure of writing program notes for this performance, which can be found here. The stream was filmed exclusively for Cal Performances on location at Merkin Hall, Kaufman Music Center, New York City, on August 17, 2020. There will also be a pre-concert conversation with Tessa Lark and Cal Performances executive and artistic director Jeremy Geffen. 

Filed under: chamber music, music news, violinists

Augustin Hadelich Tells Bohemian Tales

Here’s a lovely taste of Augustin Hadelich’s new upcoming release, Bohemian Tales.

My recent feature on this extraordinary violinist for Strings magazine appears here.

Filed under: Antonín Dvořák, violinists

Patricia Kopatchinskaja Comes to Town

PatKop

Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja returns to Seattle next week for concerts on Jan. 29-30 and Feb. 1. (Marco Borggreve)

My story about the matchless Patricia Kopatchinskaja, who comes to Seattle for a recital and concerts with the Seattle Symphony and Thomas Dausgaard:

Her Seattle Symphony debut drew blood. In April 2016, when Patricia Kopatchinskaja reached the final movement of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, her violin’s shoulder rest came loose. The screw that should have held it in place dug into her neck, breaking the skin. But the music wasn’t over yet.

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Filed under: Kurtág, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, preview, Shostakovich, violinists

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