MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival Goes Forward

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James Ehnes, Seattle Chamber Music Society artistic director, in the recording studio he set up while sequestered at his home near Tampa, Florida, where he just completed recording Bach’s solo violin Sonatas and Partitas. (Courtesy of Kate Ehnes)

Here’s my story about Seattle Chamber Music Society’s plan to go forward with its beloved, month-long Summer Festival with an online version.

Along with its terrible human toll, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the performing arts. Cancellation announcements are now so routine that the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s (SCMS) decision to proceed with a 2020 Summer Festival comes as a welcome respite…

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Meanwhile, here’s something from James Ehnes’s makeshift home studio. I’ll write more about his latest project there in an upcoming post.

Filed under: chamber music, James Ehnes, music news, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Philip Glass’s Akhnaten at the Met

The Metropolitan Opera’s nightly streams include some really special offerings this coming weekend, both of which are being made available to the public for the first time on the Met’s streaming platform — these are not available in the Met on Demand Video and Audio Catalogue. These are Satyagraha and Akhnaten, two of the operas from Philip Glass’s “Portrait Trilogy.” Both are in the productions brilliantly directed by Phelim McDermott. Karen Kamensek conducts the performance of Akhnaten given last fall on 23 November 2019.

Here’s my program essay for Akhnaten to help prepare for the stream on Saturday 20 June 2020:

On January 6, 1907, the entrance to a rock-cut tomb was uncovered in
the Valley of the Kings outside modern-day Luxor, Egypt. The mummy
safeguarded within may have been the preserved body of the pharaoh
Akhnaten (today more commonly known as Akhenaten). Rigorous DNA testing
conducted in 2010 was reported to have confirmed that identification, though
the matter remains hotly contested—like just about everything else associated
with this most controversial of ancient Egypt’s vast lineage of rulers.

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Click to access 112319-akhnaten.pdf

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, Phelim McDermott, Philip Glass

Porgy and Bess Roundtable from PostClassical Ensemble

Following up on my post from the beginning of the month, here’s a distillation of PostClassical Ensemble’s 10 June zoom chat titled “Porgy and Bess Roundtable: What’s It About and Who’s Singing It?”

The panelists include George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to sing lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera, the bass-baritone Kevin Deas, one of the leading Porgys on today’s scene, Conrad Osborne, an expert in opera in performance, will also join in, and PCE founder Joseph Horowitz, with Bill McGlaughlin hosting. They also sample some historic Porgy recordings.

For more on this topic, here is Horowitz’s recent post: “Porgy Takes a Knee — Porgy and Bess and the American Experience of Race“:

“It’s interesting that Gershwin chose as his protagonist a person who’s on his knees. ‘Taking a knee’ has never been more relevant.”

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Filed under: African-American musicians, American music, George Gershwin, PostClassical Ensemble

A Live Concert from the Shanghai Philharmonic

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Live orchestral music making is slowly returning to Mainland China. My colleague Rudolph Tang alerted me to this concert from the Shanghai Philharmonic, which is now being streamed from its Facebook page.

More than 150 days since it had to shut, the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra resumed its season with this live concert yesterday led by music director Zhang Yi. A socially distanced audience was in attendance, and the concert marks a major effort to globally stream orchestral music from Mainland China.

This isn’t another chamber concert with just a handful of players, as we’ve been increasingly seeing as concert halls in Europe and Asia tentatively return to business. The centerpiece here is nothing less than the stage-crowding Rite of Spring.

Rudolph Tang attended the concert. He reports that the audience was about 350 strong and “had to go through a series of checkpoints, including body temperature check, filling out forms, showing their QR codes, and metal detection” and were additionally required to wear masks throughout the program.
He adds: “The orchestra encored veteran Chinese composer Shi Wanchun’s Long Live the People after Rite. It’s the theme music of the hugely popular film The Founding of the Nation (1989) about how the PRC was formed. The concert was enthusiastically received and the global streaming initiative was covered widely by the local newspapers.”

An image provided by Rudolph Tang
Shanghai-Philharmonic

More from the press release here.

Filed under: classical music in Mainland China, music news

Ojai Talks: 2020 Virtual Festival

UPDATE: Wiener Staatsoper will stream Olga Neuwirth’s new opera Orlando (conducted by Matthias Pintscher) on 23 June from its platform here. Apparently you will need to use a VPN set to a location in Europe to stream (inaccessible to USA), but that’s an easy work-around.

Ara Guzelimian hosts these fascinating conversations with this year’s Ojai Festival artists. I’ll post them as they become available. The first three are now live:

Conversation with 2020 Music Director Matthias Pintscher about his background and his friendship with Pierre Boulez (11 June)

Conversation with Matthias Pintscher and featured artist Olga Neuwirth (12 June)

Conversation with and performances by the Calder Quartet (13 June)

Conversation with Steve Reich (14 June)

Here’s my essay for the overall program: The Art of Transitions

And my program notes for each of the ten events are all to be found in the online program book under that tab here.

Filed under: Asra Guzelimian, Matthias Pintscher, Ojai Festival, Olga Neuwirth

Ojai Music Festival: Virtual Edition

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On Thursday through Sunday, 11-14 June, Ojai Festival presents a virtual edition of what was to have been its 74th festival. Artistic Director Chad Smith and Music Director Matthias Pintscher curated a splendid program, with Olga Neuwirth and Steve Reich as special featured guests. This also would have marked the Ojai debut of the Ensemble intercontemporain — of which Pintscher is current director and which was founded by his mentor Pierre Boulez, a longtime presence at Ojai.

This is my own first year of being associated with Ojai, so this cancellation has hit me especially hard. But you’ll have a chance to hear Ara Guzelimian, incoming Artistic Director, in some wonderful conversations with Pintscher, Neuwirth, Reich, and members of the Calder String Quartet.

You can read my program essay here. My program notes for each event are linked on the respective pages.

Filed under: new music, Ojai Festival

Tobias Picker’s New Opera Awakenings

Here’s another premiere that was forced to cancel: Awakenings, the latest opera from Tobias Picker, which has been scheduled to open at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Its source is the fascinating book by Oliver Sacks — who had been a good friend of Picker — about those who survived an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica in the 1920s.

Sacks drew on his work with this patients in the 1960s for Awakenings, originally published in 1973, which prompted W.H. Auden’s verdict that the book is a masterpiece. Harold Pinter was inspired by Awakenings to write his play A Kind of Alaska; a movie of the Sacks book was made in 1990, starring Robin Williams.

The writer and physician Aryeh Lev Stollman, who is Picker’s husband, wrote the libretto. The world premiere production was to have been directed by James Robinson and conducted by Roberto Kalb, with Jarrett Porter creating the role of Dr. Oliver Sacks.

Here’s a link to an interactive conversation that was held by OTSL about the planned production.

Filed under: American opera, Tobias Picker

Conductor’s Panel

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Here is a link to Conductor’s Perspective, a Facebook live conversation that took place today among these four American conductors: Roderick Cox, who hosted, Thomas Wilkins, Music Director of the Omaha Symphony and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Michael Morgan, Music Director of the Oakland Symphony, and Jonathon Heyward, the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie’s Chief Conductor Designate.

It’s an inspiring, cross-generational panel discussion that frankly covers the hurdles African-American musicians have faced — and continue to face — as well as the artistic passions that drive these outstandingly talented conductors.

Filed under: African-American musicians, conductors

PostClassical Ensemble’s More than Music Turns the Spotlight on Gershwin

PostClassical Ensemble — the “experimental orchestral laboratory” founded in 2003 by Joseph Horowitz and Angel Gil-Ordonez — has been reflecting on music’s role in society through a series called “More then Music,” which presents audio/video webcasts and associated zoom chats.

With the new challenges it poses to institutions we’ve taken for granted, the coronavirus pandemic has intensified the urgency of thinking about these issues of music and its social function — as opposed to abstracting the art into a “purely” aesthetic construct.

The latest edition of PCE’s More than Music series focuses on George Gershwin and a time of creative ferment that was tearing down conventional walls around self-described “serious” music.

PCE has just released the video linked above, The Russian Gershwin, featuring commentary by Joseph Horowitz (PCE Executive Producer) and Angel Gil-Ordóñez (PCE Music Director), with Bill McGlaughlin as the host.

There will be two follow-up zoom chats free and open to the public, both from 6 to 7pm EST. The first one, on 4 June, “A Gershwin Roundtable,” will be a discussion with Horowitz, Gil-Ordóñez, the pianist Genadi Zagor, and Mark Clague, director of the Gershwin Initiative at the University of Michigan. It will also include a live performance by the jazz artist Karrin Allyson.

The 10 June chat is titled “Porgy and Bess Roundtable: What’s It About and Who’s Singing It?” Along with Horowitz, Gil-Ordóñez, and Clague, special guests will include two pre-eminent singers who are authorities on Porgy and Bess: George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to sing lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera, and the bass-baritone Kevin Deas, one of the leading Porgys on today’s scene. Conrad L. Osborne, an expert in opera in performance, will also join in, and there will a discussion of historic Porgy recordings. Bill McGlaughlin hosts both zoom chats.

More details and sign-up links to the free zoom chats here.

Filed under: African-American musicians, George Gershwin, PostClassical Ensemble

Andante Cantabile from String Quartet in A minor by Florence Price

The first concert on my list to cover that got cancelled by the pandemic was to have been the Seattle Symphony in a program featuring the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Florence Price. That now seems a lifetime away. Cellist Seth Parker Woods, who plays here, turns to the music of Price for the perfect suggestion for how to start the new week in these times.

Filed under: American music, Florence Price, Seth Parker Woods

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