Prélude, choral et fugue

At a stunning recital on Friday in the National City Christian Church in Washington, DC, pianist Yvonne Chen reminded me of a fugue’s Latin roots: coming from the Latin fuga, flight. A fugue initially introduces a lone subject, and all the entering subsequent parts chase it, imitating what it has already announced. As Ebenezer Prout authoritatively defines it, a fugue is founded on “the idea that one part starts on its course alone, and that those which enter later are pursuing it.” 

Chen closed her program of French composers with César Franck’s Prélude, choral et fugue, a masterwork of fervent tranquility. Composed in 1884, the work came to be in the midst of an intensely creative shift in Franck’s work toward the end of his life, and it shows in the complex phrase structures, the shifts between form, the bend of certain harmonic rules that, over the course of its movements, drive sensation to a pitch. Under Chen’s deft fingers, the delicate balance between control and abandon was pristine–a yearningly profound flight to the end to catch its subject.

Interview with Sasha Cooke

I’ve always been a fan of Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke’s vocal prowess, but after interviewing her about her latest album focused on the pandemic, “how do I find you,” I have huge respect for her as a creator, an intellectual, and a fellow human. Read a small part of our conversation in Rice Magazine.

Call for Papers (a guaranteed session!)

MLA 2023: San Francisco (January 5-8th)

At Work and at Play: Opera, Musical Performance, and Reflections on (Creative) Labor:  Many theorists have considered the relationship between art and work. This panel will both participate in and further such conversations via papers that consider the more specific relationship between work and musical performance. Submissions may consider theoretical questions (what is the nature of creative labor?), and or more practical questions regarding the economics of artistry or current conditions for creating and performing during a pandemic.

 Please submit a brief abstract and bio for this guaranteed session by March 28th to naomi.morgenstern@utoronto.ca

What lies beneath

Read my latest review of a night at the Kennedy Center that revolved around Benjamin Britten. Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten; Britten’s Violin Concerto, Op. 15; and Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 10: a heavy program but worth the lift.

“The role of art during wartime usually revolves with broad strokes around reminding us of our humanity. Less so, perhaps, do we feel the strain put on the artist by ruling regimes, the subtle moments of defiance and camaraderie that emerge embittered yet hopeful.” 

Remembering Carlisle

Today I’m thinking of Carlisle Floyd, who died on Thursday. In 2016, I previewed his world premiere of Prince of Players at Houston Grand Opera, and, after opening night, recall feeling very lucky that I’d experienced one of the American living greats at work. He leaves behind a treasured legacy.

Lang Lang lives up to the hype

Like so many of us, the last time I was at the Kennedy Center to hear live music was in March 2020, and what a first concert back! Lang Lang playing Beethoven’s third piano concerto and a world premiere from Peter Boyer drawn from Henry Kissinger’s life–it was fascinating, inspiring, and undeniably emotional. Read my review at Bachtrack.

Variations on Water Music

I’m teaching Aldous Huxley’s 1923 essay “Water Music” this week and having been thinking of other water music I know and love. Finding a serious through-line is a stretch, but I did laugh when I saw the line-up: Maybe Handel’s Water Music, Aldous Huxley’s Water Music, and John Cage’s Water Walk relate more than I thought? (The latter two perhaps…) At the very least, what an opening line!

Willa Cather is weirder than you think

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how bizarre Willa Cather’s work is–namely, while I’ve been re-reading her 1915 novel The Song of the Lark. Take this passage, for instance, when Thea attends her very first concert (with Wagner and Dvořák on the program):

“First memories, first mornings long ago; the amazement of a new soul in a new world; a soul new and yet old, that had dreamed something despairing, something glorious, in the dark before it was born; a soul obsessed by what it did not know, under a cloud of a past it could not recall.”

For a narrative defined by chronological development—the protagonist’s rise from country girl to international opera sensation—this temporal fluctuation between past and present strikes me as out of place in a beautifully haunting idiom: a soul both new and old, dreaming something “in the dark before it was born,” yet obsessed with a “past it could not recall.” Rather eerie and uncommonly experimental for an author we generally associate with prairies and plains, no?

MLA 2022 Call for Papers on Opera

I am so excited to announce TWO cfp’s for MLA 2022 from the Forum for Opera and Musical Performance, the second of which is in collaboration with the Forum for Drama and Performance. We’d love to hear from any opera scholars across disciplines.

Found in Translation: Opera Among Languages

Many librettos are written in a language other than that of their source text. What interesting results arise from the movement between languages (as well as into a musical register) in operatic production and reception?

Deadline for submissions: Monday, 15 March 2021

Abstracts to: John Pendergast, US Military Acad (john.pendergast@westpoint.edu )

The Politics of Performance: Race in American Musical Theatre and Opera

American musical theatre and classical Opera both have a complex relationship to questions of race and representation. How does innovation in performance reimagine this history? How might embodied and vulnerable performances effect political intervention?

Deadline for submissions: Monday, 15 March 2021

Abstracts to: Naomi E. Morgenstern, U of Toronto (naomi.morgenstern@utoronto.ca ) and R. Darren Gobert, Duke U (rdg37@duke.edu )