MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Lohengrin Stream from Bayreuth

If you missed the live stream last Wednesday (25 July, the traditional opening day of the Bayreuther Festspiele), through the magic of VPN you can still view a recording of the complete performance on BR-Klassik here. Apparently it’s still available to view until 31 December.

This staging by Yuval Sharon is a genuinely historic production. This is the first time an American has directed at Bayreuth. It also marks the achievement of a complete “cycle”: Christian Thielemann, 59, has now conducted all ten canonical Wagner operas at Bayreuth. And one of the production’s especially powerful elements is the portrayal of Ortrud — Wagner’s most fascinating villain? — in her return to the Green Hill after a long hiatus.

David Allen’s review for the New York Times is particularly astute:

[Sharon] is the closest thing that American opera has to a genuine avant-gardist. … This is a story, in the director’s mind, not about Elsa’s tragic failure to keep her faith, but about Lohengrin’s unreasonable demands, about the hypocrisy of his — and, therefore, modernity’s — inability to live up to his own vision for society. And who will make that hypocrisy clear, challenge it, overcome it? The women.

Christian Wildhagen, writing for the NZZ, was less swayed by the young American. He observes:

Doch dass die offenbar tiefschürfend reflektierte, mit allerlei Romantik und Farbensymbolik angereicherte Szenerie und das über weite Strecken biedere, ermüdend oft auf die Zentralperspektive fixierte Stehtheater im weiten Bühnenrund sinnstiftend (und nicht bloss illustrierend) ineinandergriffen – davon kann auch hier keine Rede sein.

The indispensable perlentaucher.de rounds up some of the German critical press here.

Filed under: Bayreuth Festival, directors, Wagner, Yuval Sharon

Strange Loops and Golden Braids

Last night’s performance of The Musical Offering is a contender for the highlight of the four performances I attended during this summer’s festival presented by the Seattle Chamber Music Society.

Today, by coincidence, as the thema regium occupies my mind, marks the 278th anniversary of the death of J.S. Bach. The performers — violinists James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Richard O’Neill, and cellist Edward Arron (the newly reformulated James Ehnes Quartet); violinists Yura Lee and Erin Keefe; violist Che-Yen Chen; cellists Julie Albers and Ronald Thomas; flutist Christie Reside; and harpsichordist Byron Schenkman — sustained a very special atmosphere throughout.

It differed in fascinating ways from the usual SCMS mood, Bach’s intellectual virtuosity holding the capacity audience spellbound, but with the tragic undertone that is also part of this music ever-present. Such a rare pleasure.

A few observations from Douglas Hofstadter’s 1970s classic, Gödel, Escher, Bach:

“The Musical Offering” is a fugue of fugues, a Tangled Hierarchy like those of Escher and Gödel, an intellectual construction which reminds me, in ways I cannot express, of the beautiful many-voiced fugue of the human mind. And that is why in my book the three strands of Gödel, Escher, and Bach are woven into an Eternal Golden Braid.

In [the Canon per Tonos], Bach has given us our first example of the notion of Strange Loops. The “Strange Loop” phenomenon occurs whenever, by moving upwards (or downwards) through the levels of some hierarchical system, we unexpectedly find ourselves right back where we started. (Here, the system is that of musical keys.) … Implicit in the concept of Strange Loops is the concept of infinity, since what else is a loop but a way of representing an endless process in a finite way?

To give an idea of how extraordinary a six-part fugue is, in the entire Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach, containing forty-eight Preludes and Fugues, only two have as many as five parts, and nowhere is there a six-part fugue! One could probably liken the task of improvising a six-part fugue to the playing of sixty simultaneous blindfold games of chess, and winning them all. To improvise an eight-part fugue is really beyond human capability.

“Quaerendo invenietis” is my advice to the reader.

Meanwhile, the Boston Public Library has digitized and put online dozens of Escher’s prints here.

Filed under: Bach, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Listening

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Filed under: photography

LA Master Chorale in Big Sing California

Billed as “the biggest choral event in California history,” Big Sing California will link up  10,000 singers from around the world with the LA Master Chorale this afternoon at 2pm PST. The program will include music by Morten Lauridsen, Moira Smiley, Eric Whitacre, Rollo Dilworth, Shawn Kirchner, and other favorites. Complete program, artist bios, list of those participating, videos, and more here.

And it’s being livestreamed, but there will be no repeat screenings.

Tune in to Big Sing California 

 

Filed under: choral music, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Welcome to Tippet Rise

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Filed under: photography

Leonard Bernstein, with Strings Attached

My latest for Strings magazine is coming out in the August 2018 issue: a look at Leonard Bernstein from a somewhat different angle (pp. 16-22).

Composer. Conductor. Educator. Humanitarian. Even the official leonardbernstein.com website attempts to cope with its namesake’s oversize legacy by parceling it into categories. The music world has yet again been attempting to reassess it all throughout this centennial year—when the absence of “the next Leonard Bernstein” seems to be felt with an especially intense pang….

(I’ll add a pdf as soon as it’s available.)

 

Filed under: Bernstein, Strings

Wolfgang von Mozart?

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The intrepid Mozart scholar Michael Lorenz published an article in 2009 examining documentation from the composer’s later years in which his name is given as “von Mozart.”

Lorenz believes this evidence suggests “that he either was addressed with a predicate of nobility or even claimed his status as nobleman himself.”
He concludes: “Of course there is no absolute proof that Mozart’s nobility was universally acknowledged by his Viennese contemporaries. But the above documents make it very likely that at some time Mozart actually passed himself off as a nobleman.”

Another issue connected with these documents involves Mozart’s worsening financial condition in the late 1780s and how this has been interpreted. According to Lorenz:

It seems that Mozart’s main reason for moving to the outskirts of Vienna was not to reduce his costs, but to take advantage of the better living conditions in more spacious environs … The circumstances of his choice of lodgings show him as a man of the world, who in spite of being faced with a major decline in income is unable to reduce the living standards to which he has become accustomed.

Filed under: Mozart, musicology

Seattle Chamber Music Society’s 2018 Commission

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Composer James Newton Howard (Eric Charbonneau / Invision / AP)

For The Seattle Times: my look at the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s commission for the 2018 Summer Festival: a new piece by veteran film composer James Newton Howard:

It would be hard to underestimate how pervasively film composers shape the general public’s image of what classical music “sounds like.” …

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Filed under: commissions, Seattle Chamber Music Society

RIP Oliver Knussen (1952-2018)

Such sad news today of the death of Oliver Knussen, only 66 years old. This prodigious, spectacular, generous, multifaceted genius left a mark that will endure.

“Besides definitive interpretations of his own music, he must surely have given more first performances than any other conductor, alongside an outstanding body of recordings. He was the central focus of so many activities, and an irreplaceable mentor to his fellow composers, who constantly sought and relied on his advice and encouragement.” Colin Matthews in The Guardian

BBC Radio 4 tribute here [h/t @AodhBC on Twitter]

“’He has had a fertilizing and energizing effect on the whole of British music for the last 40 years,’ the composer George Benjamin, a longtime friend and colleague, said in a telephone interview. ‘We have a lively and varied contemporary music world here in the U.K., and a lot of it is owed to him, because of the immensely generous encouragement he gave to generations and generations of composers.'” (from the New York Times obituary)

Faber Music’s summary of Knussen’s career is here.

Filed under: music news, Oliver Knussen

Shostakovich: Cello Sonata No. 1

Haunted by this work now, which was positioned in the middle of last night’s Summer Festival of the Seattle Chamber Music Society — in an enthralling performance by Seattle Symphony principal cellist Efe Baltacıgil and pianist Adam Neiman.

The program also included Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata (Augustin Hadelich and Alessio Bax) and a winning account of Schumann’s E-flat major Piano Quintet (Andrew Wan, Benjamin Beilman, Jonathan Vinocour, Astrid Schween, George Li).

Filed under: chamber music, Seattle Chamber Music Society, Shostakovich

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