MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Brahms Times 2: Hamelin Displays Mettle And Might

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Marc-André Hamelin performed both Brahms piano concertos at the Bellingham Festival. (Photo: Catherine Fowler)

I spent a lovely day in Bellingham on Sunday. Here’s my review of Marc-André Hamelin’s program of the two Brahms piano concertos at the Bellingham Festival of Music for Classical Voice North America.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Rhapsodizing about his summer getaway in the lakeside resort of Pörtschach, Brahms observed that “the melodies fly so thick you must watch out not to step on one.” It’s easy to imagine the composer armed with a melody-catching butterfly net and setting out for a stroll through the idyllic campus in coastal Washington, where the Bellingham Festival of Music takes place over three weeks each July.

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Filed under: Brahms, festivals, pianists, review

Intriguing Voyage Out Anchored by 19th-Century Delights in Seattle

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Sebastian Currier

My review of Monday evening’s Summer Chamber Festival concert, which presented the world premiere of Sebastian Currier’s piano quintet Voyage Out, along with music by Fanny Mendelssohn* and Antonín Dvořák:

Under the smart and tastefully reliable artistic direction of the distinguished violinist James Ehnes, the Seattle Chamber Music Society has basically hewed to a longstanding programming formula: an overlooked work by a familiar composer, a piece featuring instrumentation unusual for the chamber format, and a blockbuster or two, typically from the 19th century…

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*This observation was cut from my review, but since the event has still left me seething, I want to include it:
As if patriarchal strictures hadn’t suppressed Fanny Mendelssohn’s voice sufficiently during her own lifetime, contemporary technology continued the insult to this wonderfully gifted composer in the form of entitled, inexcusable rudeness: in both the first and second movements, the same audience member had to silence a cell phone’s intrusions (not before the beastly device rang out a full cycle of Westminster chimes as the Adagio was supposed to have ebbed into silence).

Filed under: Antonín Dvořák, commissions, Fanny Mendelssohn, James Ehnes, review, Seattle Chamber Music Society

New Piano Quintet by Sebastian Currier in Seattle

Looking forward to this evening’s world premiere of Voyage Out: Quintet for Piano and Strings by Sebastian Currier — this summer’s Seattle Chamber Music Society commission. Currier will introduce the piece in a talk at 7pm. Also on the 8pm program are Fanny Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E-flat major and Dvořák’s Op. 87 Piano Quartet.

Above is a fascinating interview with Currier conducted by Frank Oteri in 2012, in which the composer discusses his aesthetic.

Filed under: commissions, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Midpoint of Summer Festival at Seattle Chamber Music Society

The Seattle Chamber Music Society has been on a roll with its SummerFestival lineup this week. I’ve especially enjoyed Emerson String Quartet cellist Paul Watkins in killer Beethoven (Cello Sonata No, 3) and Brahms (C minor Piano Trio, Op. 101, with James Ehnes and Alessio Bax), the piano four-hands version of Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye with Inon Barnatan and Angela Drăghicescu, and the long-belated U.S. live premiere of George Enescu’s Piano Trio No. 1 from 1897 (thanks to the diligence of Angela Drăghicescu, who was joined by James Ehnes and Ani Aznavoorian to perform it — I have a report on the rediscovery coming out later in Strings magazine). Plus, a delightful account of the “Sunrise” Quartet by Haydn (who’s been all-too-missing from summers past), courtesy of Alexander Kerr, Benjamin Bowman, Beth Gutterman Chu, and Ani Aznavoorian.

Another series of gems has been provided by the tenor Nicholas Phan and colleagues in several chamber song cycles: Fauré’s exquisite La bonne chanson and a cycle Mr. Phan created by interweaving secular love songs by John Blow and Purcell (with Stephen Stubbs and Julie Albers, plus new obbligato violin parts for Alexander Kerr and Benjamin Bowman). The tenor returns this evening for a prelude recital of selections from Schubert’s Schwanengesang (with Inon Barnatan at the keyboard) and, to James Ehnes’s violin, a Vaughan Williams rarity: Along the Field, his cycle of A.E. Housman settings. Also on the program tonight: Hindemith’s Viola Sonata, Op. 11, no. 4, more Enescu — Concert Piece for Viola and Piano — and Beethoven’s Op. 1, no. 1, the Piano Trio No. 1 in E-flat major.

Filed under: chamber music, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Gramophone 2019: A Letter from Seattle

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Here’s a little contribution from me to this month’s Gramophone magazine:

Across the United States, the pressure is on to redefine longstanding classical music institutions that otherwise face potential extinction….

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Filed under: Gramophone, music news, Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony

Review of San Francisco Opera Season Closers

Orlando-Sasha Cooke as Orlando and Christian Van Horn as Zoroastro in Handel's Orlando.

Sasha Cooke as Orlando and Christian Van Horn as Zoroastro in Handel’s “Orlando.” Photo (c) Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In addition to the wondrous Rusalka that was — by consensus, it seems — the highlight of the 2019 summer season — I wrote for Musical America about the company’s productions of Carmen and Orlando here

Overall, I found the Carmen deeply disappointing on account of misguided direction — direction that also worked against the cast. Orlando, on the other hand, was engaging and beautifully produced. Despite some miscasting, it offered an insightful interpretation of one of Handel’s richest scores.

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Opera made a bold move when it last presented Carmen only three years ago, at the end of the David Gockley era. It marked the first-ever North American platform for the highly controversial Catalan director Calixto Bieito, and — in spite of some flaws (the revival was actually directed by a longtime Bieito associate) — offered genuinely fresh perspectives.

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Filed under: directors, Georges Bizet, Handel, Musical America, review, San Francisco Opera

2019 Summer Festival at Seattle Chamber Music Society

The 2019 edition of the Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival has already begun. Looking forward to discovering this early Enescu Piano Trio next week — in its belated U.S. premiere.

Filed under: chamber music, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Martin Fischer-Dieskau on the Art and Hard Work of a Misunderstood Profession

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Martin Fischer-Dieskau

I had a chance to speak with the conductor Martin Fischer-Dieskau, who takes a critical look at the hubris and mystification surrounding his profession:

For Martin Fischer-Dieskau, the two-year period since his last engagement in the USA feels like a remarkably long gap. The peripatetic maestro loves interacting with musicians and audiences around the world, so he’s excited by the prospect of returning to the New World to helm an all-Berlioz program at the Round Top Music Festival in Texas on 13 July.

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Filed under: Berlioz, conductors

Happy July 4th

Forget about the narcissist in chief and enjoy the spirit of independence!

Filed under: holiday

More Than a Pretty “Song to the Moon”: Rusalka as a Dark Parable

Rusalka-Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Rusalka and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Vodník the Water Goblin in Dvořák’s-credit-Cory Weaver

Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Rusalka) and Kristinn Sigmundsson (Vodník the Water Goblin); photo (c) Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

David McVicar and San Francisco Opera have been a winning combination in recent seasons. Here’s another to add to the list along with Meistersinger and Les Troyens: the company’s staging of Rusalka in June. My review for Musical America (with another on Carmen and Orlando to follow):

SAN FRANCISCO — After he returned from his sojourn in the New World, Dvořák ceased writing symphonies and turned for inspiration to Czech legend and folklore: first, in a brilliant quartet of symphonic poems — still too infrequently programmed — and then in a pair of operas.

It’s not surprising that Rusalka, the second of these, has found its place in the international repertoire as the most popular of Dvořák’s ten stage works. Along with offering a poetic variant on a universally resonant archetype (the folktale of the mermaid), Rusalka fuses Dvořák’s disparate musical influences into a versatile musical language ideally primed for narrative effectiveness.

That said, Rusalka, which premiered in 1901, suffers from some basic dramaturgical weaknesses as well as stretches of second-rate musical inspiration. But the production presented by San Francisco Opera — only the second time Rusalka has been staged by the company — swept these shortcomings aside to reveal a richly layered and fully engaging work…

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Filed under: Antonín Dvořák, directors, review, San Francisco Opera

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