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Music that sends cats hunting

Now that Yannick Nézet-Séguin is one of the best-liked conductors on the planet, he can afford to come out – as a cat person. The music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera recently paid a visit to the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) and brought with him a playlist based on the musical responses he and his partner Pierre Tourville have witnessed with their three cats, Mélisande, Rafa and Rodolfo. "I wanted to do my part," he said, in a widely-published statement, "to make … [Read more...]

King Lear with Glenda Jackson and everything else that’s happening now

Great Shakespeare plays take the color of their surroundings – if the production is doing its job, and Broadway’s new King Lear is accomplishing that. But then how could any alert, modern Lear production avoid the current parallels with lines such as these? “’Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.” “Get thee glass eyes and, like a scurvy politician, seem to see the things thou dost not.” The theater world is inevitably referring to the production now in previews at the Cort Theatre as “the Glenda Jackson King Lear”, … [Read more...]

Renaissance polyphony as the eternal frontier of self-discovery

New York Polyphony’s concert on Feb. 16 gave listeners many excellent things to agree upon - even though reactions were probably as numerous as the ears that heard it. This charming male foursome specializes in 15th- and 16th-century Renaissance polyphony, frequenting composers with strange names and music relatively rarely heard in recent centuries. This particular program at New York City's Church of St. Mary the Virgin (presented by the Miller Theatre at Columbia University) was titled "Music Over the Alps" — a conceptual … [Read more...]

Messiaen in a crypt: New meaning to ‘the end of time.’

Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time made a high-prestige appearance Feb. 5 as the one and only work in concert series known as The Crypt Sessions - a sought-afte insider ticket for a few years now, presented at the Church of the Ascension Crypt in Harlem by the non-profit organization Death of Classical. Always a thoughtfully-curated series, this concert had the kind of repertoire, performing space and penetrating performance that yielded fresh questions about the nature of, well, everything. The lineup of strong personalities but … [Read more...]

Bang on a Can composer Julia Wolfe ignites the New York Philharmonic

History would seem to be in the re-making at the New York Philharmonic.  The new Julia Wolfe multi-media oratorio Fire in my mouth, premiered Jan. 24-26 at Lincoln Center, commemorated the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in a spirit that can make critics cringe preemptively. How many socially responsible pieces have implored us to weep, pray and feel guilty to what amounts to a pathos-laden film score? Instead, this piece was a breakthrough, something perfectly in step with 2019 with smartly-channeled passion that carries the … [Read more...]

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ‘Greek’ is back after 30 years — and its tattoos still aren’t smeared

Mark-Anthony Turnage redefined British opera with Greek, his 80-minute updating of the Oedipus myth to modern, working-class London, with a raucous score and a perversely happy ending. But that was in a different world: 1988. Nowadays, Thomas Adès seems to be the defining composer of British opera, like it or not. And when Greek arrived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Dec. 5-9 in a production by Scottish Opera/Opera Ventures, I imagined it like some seriously aging hipster whose many once-edgy tattoos are turning to mud. I was throughly, … [Read more...]

Arnold Schoenberg survived Nazi Germany, Vienna and Hollywood. But Boston?

Opera thrives on iconic figures, whether from mythology or history. But maybe composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) hasn't been gone long enough - or was never outwardly heroic enough - to fill Tod Machover's new opera Schoenberg in Hollywood, premiered Nov. 14-18 by Boston Lyric Opera. Schoenberg was the springboard for modernism in the second half of the 20th century; though he died in 1951, he cuts a Moses-like figure, leading serious music beyond atonality, creating a system by which its complete freedom could be managed, and taking the … [Read more...]

I have my come-to-Arvo moment

Arvo Pärt, disarmingly, lacks barriers. He hides nothing. Evasion, irony and pretension are unknown in his music. The 80-something Estonian composer is, however, the master of implying far more than he says. At its most spare, his music seems to barely exist. And that's probably why I've had such a long road to the full appreciation of this internationally acclaimed composer whose devotional works led to the coining of the term "holy minimalism." Arvo Pärt: The Sound of the Sacred — a concert on Nov. 12 at the Church of St. Ignatius … [Read more...]

Glass’ Satyagraha imported from Sweden with stunts under precarious circumstances

Philip Glass used to say he was never composed opera per se, but ended up rubbing shoulders with Verdi and Wagner because opera houses had the needed theatrical apparatus. Was he buying time while figuring out how to write recitatives his way? Was he creating a hybrid? Both? Whatever the case, Glass’ first mainstream-ish opera, Satyagraha, was no easier to define Nov. 4 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a Sweden-imported production by Folkoperan and Cirkus Cirkor  after 37 years of making the opera-house rounds. It looks, sounds and … [Read more...]

Life gets lush: Gregory Spears meets The Crossing

Finding one's voice is an elusive matter for composers - a combination of circumstances that may or may not be in their control, plus the unpredictable factor of artistic evolution. Somebody like Jennifer Higdon doesn't necessarily wake up in the morning and declare herself ready to write, say, a tuba concerto. People come to her with those kinds of requests, and if the Higdon genie can inhabit that bottle, everybody ends up happy. In vocal works, words, drama and prescribed scoring dictated by the performers at hand merge with what the … [Read more...]

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