Press

Tue, October 10, 2017

In ‘The Hubble Cantata,’ opera blasts into the world of virtual reality
The Los Angeles Times

McNitt’s VR experience is the metaphorical tail on the multimedia comet that is classical composer Paola Prestini’s “The Hubble Cantata,” which swept up that huge audience in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park last summer and stages its West Coast premiere Wednesday at the Ford Theatres in Hollywood. Presented in association with Los Angeles Opera, the show features soprano Jessica Rivera and baritone Nathan Gunn singing a libretto by Royce Vavrek. Members of the L.A. Opera Orchestra, L.A. Opera Chorus and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus are also part of the production [directed by Julian Wachner].

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In 'The Hubble Cantata,' opera blasts into the world of virtual reality

by Jessica Gelt

When 6,000 of her fellow audience members placed cardboard goggles on their faces to watch her five-minute virtual reality film, “Fistful of Stars,” Eliza McNitt’s heart broke from happiness.

She heard people shuffling around, then a brief silence followed by a collective gasp. This happened when viewers, many of whom had never experienced VR before, realized that they were being transported inside the Hubble Telescope in order to view the enigmatic enormity of the cosmos from its privileged perch beyond the earth’s atmosphere.

McNitt’s VR experience is the metaphorical tail on the multimedia comet that is classical composer Paola Prestini’s “The Hubble Cantata,” which swept up that huge audience in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park last summer and stages its West Coast premiere Wednesday at the Ford Theatres in Hollywood. Presented in association with Los Angeles Opera, the show features soprano Jessica Rivera and baritone Nathan Gunn singing a libretto by Royce Vavrek. Members of the L.A. Opera Orchestra, L.A. Opera Chorus and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus are also part of the production.

I think storytelling is at the heart of all these experiences. We are trying to leave people with a sense of wonder and awe.— Eliza McNitt, filmmaker

The performance is a cosmic collision of science and art on a novel scale, arriving at a time when experimental companies such as Yuval Sharon’s the Industry are using the classic art form to push technological and artistic innovation — and in the process draw a new generation of fans.

“What is so exciting about this project was being able to bring a new perspective to an art form that has existed for so long in order to provide a new way of experiencing it,” McNitt said by phone from New York. “I think storytelling is at the heart of all these experiences. We are trying to leave people with a sense of wonder and awe.”

Prestini first approached McNitt about the project a few years ago. She told McNitt that she wanted to create visuals for the performance, which tells the tale of an astrophysicist who looks to the mystery of the cosmos after losing his wife and child. This story finds its parallel in the life cycle of a star, which McNitt’s film reveals as viewers are transported to the Orion Nebula to watch a star be born, age and eventually explode in a supernova.

McNitt, 26, is a bit of a supernova herself. She is a two-time winner of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, a self-professed “certified nerd” whose research on honeybee colony collapse disorder earned her a visit to the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN. There, during a stroll in the particle accelerator, she fell “deeply in love with particle physics” and realized she needed to show the world that science is art.

This led to her first documentary film, “Requiem for the Honeybee,” which was broadcast internationally on C-SPAN. Since then, McNitt has made it her mission to create films that bring science to vivid life.

For “Fistful of Stars,” McNitt worked closely with astrophysicist Mario Livio, a prolific author who devoted more than 25 years to overseeing many of the Hubble Telescope’s discoveries. Livio also narrates “The Hubble Cantata,” and he helped McNitt hew true to the scientific realities of her interstellar journey.

Using real footage from the telescope, McNitt crafted a film that took scientific theories grounded in hard data and interpreted them through an artistic lens, making sure to consider crucial points of interest including the color of a star when it is born and what solar flares look like when they’re circling off the body of a star.

“I wanted to make people feel like they were seeing through the lens of the Hubble Telescope, and peering back in time billions of years ago to see what Hubble sees thousands of light years away,” she said.

The beauty of this particular collaboration, L.A. Opera President Christopher Koelsch said, is how seamlessly the various art forms blend together.

“You don’t want to allow the technology tail to wag the artistic dog,” he said. “There would be no point in incorporating this technology if it weren’t merited by the aesthetics of the piece.”

Koelsch is a big fan of Prestini’s work. The young composer, who in 2011 was named one of the top 100 composers under 40 by National Public Radio, is part of an exciting group of new music innovators whom Koelsch affectionately calls the “iPod generation of composers.”

“They are classically trained musicians who are as equally influenced by pop culture and rock ’n’ roll as they are by Wagner,” he said, adding that the kind of experimentation Prestini has lent to her work will help “shape what masterpieces come out of the next 50 years.”

Ford Theatres’ interim executive director, Olga Garay-English, is welcoming “The Hubble Cantata” to Los Angeles as part of a 10-part series featuring work by contemporary artists called “Ignite @ the Ford!”

“It’s not an expensive technology, so we’re able to share this for free with all of our patrons who come to the event,” she says of cardboard goggles that fit to audience members’ personal mobile phones for viewing “Fistful of Stars.” They will download the film in advance, so that when the cue comes to don the goggles, they are ready for experience.

“As the music crescendos, you meld into the cosmos,” she said. “What can be accomplished these days is extraordinary.”

Also extraordinary, added McNitt, is the collective nature of the experience. VR has traditionally been a solitary experience, with viewers isolated in headsets and headphones, separate from the rest of the world while becoming part of another world entirely.

“I think there is something very special about embracing the flaws of that idea to create this communal experience where you can not only listen to this thunderous score, but listen to the person next to you reacting to that experience,” McNitt said.

Mon, October 9, 2017

The Devil Came Up to Boston for Cerise Lim Jacobs’ New Opera, “REV. 23”
La Scena Musicale

In selecting Julian Wachner to compose REV. 23, Jacobs chose cannily. Mirroring the opera’s mediation between Paradise and Hell, Wachner has described his own compositional impulses as poised between what he calls the “Apollonian” – rational, ordered, sanctified – and the “Dionysian,” i.e., free, rebellious, and transgressive.

Wachner’s score thus amounts to a broad-board conspectus of historical styles, tics and tricks, rendering it quite appropriate as the music of a post-modern opera about a post-historical universe. Everything is equally at hand, equally valid, equally susceptible of repurposing and imitation – Monteverdi, Gluck, Wagner, Hindemith, Britten, Led Zeppelin, Stephen Sondheim, Metallica, Adele.

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The Devil Came Up to Boston for Cerise Lim Jacobs’ New Opera, “REV. 23”

BY CHARLES GEYER

9 OCTOBER 2017

The End was at hand, and it was a devil of a good time.

The city of Boston recently got a privileged, early glimpse of the Apocalypse – and beyond – courtesy of resident visionary, opera-maker, and eschatologist nonpareil, Cerise Lim Jacobs, who not only conceived and wrote the libretto for REV. 23, but commissioned its composer and produced the work via her White Snake Projects, a not-for-profit organization committed to presenting new opera while making meaningful educational and development contributions to the community at large.

Boston, of course, is a place historically inured to fire-and-brimstone preachments. But here was a very different kind of sermon. This isn’t your Cotton-Mather Last Judgment.

Billed as “a farcical hellish opera,” REV. 23 purports to reveal the contents of a previously unknown Chapter 23 of St. John’s Book of Revelation. Until now, the canonical Christian Bible concluded with Revelation‘s 22nd chapter and its saccharine prognostications of eternal peace in a land irrigated by the “pure river of the water of life” where “there shall be no night.”

But Jacobs glances beyond all of that. Wryly claiming to be not the author, but a mere mystic scribe receiving St. John’s dictation of this explosive, previously withheld material, she has created what is tantamount to a Tartarean tabloid exposé – regaling us, fascinating us, and scandalizing us with a spectacle of hella trouble in Paradise.

Where There’s Smoke….

Recorded preshow music for REV. 23 included Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Then – crisis! – a sudden grind of gears, a surge and dip of light, Lucifer and his associates rushed the stage, gnarring and howling imprecations, and REV. 23 was underway.

The action takes place in the (superficially) halcyon days beyond the Rapture. Paradise has been regained. Lucifer has been deposed from worldly dominion by the Archangel Michael for the second (and presumably final) time, and is now reduced to the role of noisome house guest in the underworld home of the god Hades (Jacobs prodigally and deliciously mixes Judeo-Christian and pagan myth canons).

But not so fast. Lucifer’s been plotting his comeback. His current chagrin stems from the failure of his most recent assay – an attempt to sabotage the master generator sustaining Paradise’s blasted eternal daylight. He’s got to come up with something else.

Hades, meanwhile, is pining for his lost love, the goddess Persephone, who, through centuries of diurnal time following Hades’ abduction of her, had been obliged to return and abide half the year in the underworld with him. Since the last trumpet, however, the goddess has presumably been released from her cycle of bondage.

Nonetheless, to Hades’ delight, Persephone does reappear, á la La sonnambula, drawn back to Hell by inveterate habit. An ensuing subplot involves the hot-and-cold erotic byplay between Persephone and Hades, along with Lucifer’s mischievous interventions that threaten to turn the affair into a netherworld ménage-a-trois.

By the Book

Lucifer’s real interest in Persephone, however, entails her unique right among created beings to make free passage between the worlds above and below. Lucifer sees her as his passport back into Paradise, where he and his confederates – Hades and the three omnipresent Furies – might somehow contrive to bring darkness back to the cosmos.

A new scheme is hatched. At the instigation of the shade of Sun Tze, the ancient Chinese military strategist who wrote the authoritative tract on “The Art of War,” Lucifer and company will derange utopia with the help of “Art, Literature, Drama, Opera, Heavy Metal, Pop” – in short, all the corrupting influence of the humanities, which will seduce the children of Paradise out of passivity and jejune bovine contentment and into open revolt. Sun Tze is here figured as a kind of Saul Alinsky, and his treatise on warfare becomes Lucifer’s Rules for Radicals.

Jacobs’ arresting and subversive thesis thus comes into focus. The redeemed are not so much blissful as merely narcotized, bleared by an imposed amnesia about all that humanity, for good or ill, had created. References to Shakespeare, for instance, are veined throughout REV. 23, his works forming a synecdoche for all the hazards of human genius that threaten to revive mankind’s old-style, willful and perverse ways. The Furies quote the weird sisters of Macbeth. Macbeth and Lear are offered as examples of “the betrayer and the betrayed.” A copy of Romeo and Julietis offered to Eve, who finds irresistible its distillation of the mystery of a broken heart, and prompts her to look, in the words of the opera’s memorable 11th-hour pop ballad, “Beyond Paradise.”

Indeed, so destabilizing to Heaven’s purposes is the reintroduction of art and literature that the Archangel Michael organizes an empyreal fascistic book-burning, a bonfire of vanities that recalls the dire cautions of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

And ultimately it isn’t really Lucifer or his accomplices who detonate Paradise. Rather, in a recapitulation of Genesis (spoiler alert), it’s Eve. Loath as she is to surrender Romeo and Juliet, she seizes the “Book of Life” itself from Michael and chucks it on the pyre, effectively purging all of peccant creation’s “permanent record” and thus, as the opera concludes, starting the cycle of life, sin, death and redemption all over again.

The Devil His Due

There’s something in REV. 23 to inflame and incense, entice, gratify and seduce just about everybody. In a climactic encounter between Lucifer and Michael (the former playing with the latter’s head, the latter shaken from his preening self-satisfaction in the Almighty’s refurbished esteem), Lucifer sings a stunning aria of curdled reverence, self-pity and arrogance – a magnificently toxic devil’s brew asserting God’s indebtedness to Lucifer for His relevance. It’s a Manichean paean worthy of Verdi’s Iago, yet fully consonant with Jacobs’ overarching theme of self-actualization through rebellion.

More than Shakespeare – more even than the Bible – an obvious urtext informing REV. 23 is John Milton’s Paradise Lost, with which REV. 23 shares a glamorous and valorizing view of Lucifer’s rebellion. Indeed, as William Blake famously observed of Milton, Jacobs might be considered “a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

Except that she does know it. More unambiguously than Milton, Jacobs construes Lucifer as the ultimate man-in-full, raging against the bland brightness of the light.

Irreverent? Perhaps. But, as it is written: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”

Those aren’t Jacobs’s words. They’re St. John’s (Revelation 22:11). Perhaps Jacobs and the Bible are on the same page after all.

Look Out Below

Of course REV. 23, for all its ingenious biblical reconfiguring, isn’t really about theology. Jacobs works fluently with biblical material owing to a strong Methodist rearing, complementing a solid classical education that likewise facilitates her deployment of Greco-Roman myth.

The daughter of an ethnically Chinese family which emigrated from then-colonial Singapore to Australia, Jacobs later made a life in Great Britain and ultimately in the United States, where she forged successful careers as a trial lawyer at a major Boston law firm and eventually as a U.S. federal prosecutor. Jacobs thus has a lot of contemporary, secular things to say about issues of self-determination, coercion, law enforcement, social justice, and the problematics of securing the consent of the governed. She writes parables that throw considerable shade on repressive societies, and on the insidious machinery of forced conformity.

REV. 23 couches much of this richly suggestive – one might say libertarian – commentary in the opera’s farcical depiction of the governance of Paradise, as when its misbehaving inhabitants are subjected to “re-education camps” administered by an overbearingly schoolmarmish Archangel Michael, or even tactics of intimidation redolent of Stalin’s Great Purge (“I can expel you from Paradise with a little rub of my eraser,” Michael sneers).

Yet for all the provocative and important ideas that teem in REV. 23, the work manages to sustain its engaging and even guffaw-inducing comedy.

“I want people to have fun,” Jacobs says of her work, and one realizes with delight that she considers that to be as important as anything else.

The New World

With REV. 23 – along with the three components of her earlier major opus, The Ouroboros Trilogy – Jacobs might be seen as having singlehandedly brought on a radically new operatic dispensation, to wit: librettist-driven opera. All of Jacobs’ works are drafted before any composer has weighed in. Jacobs then audits a battery of recommended American composers and chooses the one she feels viscerally most closely attuned to her new libretto.

It’s a novel modus operandi by contemporary standards; but Jacobs’ approach might, in another sense, be seen as harking back to principles laid down in the 18th Century by opera theorists and practitioners such as Francesco Algarotti and Christoph Willibald Gluck. Indeed, as much as REV. 23 might be viewed as an ironic reworking of Paradise Lost, it is equally if not more evidently a turn on Gluck’s masterpiece, Orfeo ed Euridice – almost its infernal inversion.

Gluck and his Orfeo librettist, Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, were determined to write a new kind of opera – an “azione teatrale per musica” that would emphasize drama and storytelling in a clear, entertaining and accessible, if fantastically mythological, fashion. Jacobs follows suit, and plays rich mischief on the original structure. Instead of a hero penetrating the underworld, REV. 23 offers an underworld antihero storming heaven. Furies bar the hero’s way in Orfeo, while REV. 23 features Furies as allies assisting the protagonist’s sally upward. Both operas end in restoration – in Orfeo, a restoration of love and happiness; in REV. 23, the restoration of historical time, with all its struggle, suffering, and uncertainty – in short, a restoration of the human condition.

(Note to opera companies: wouldn’t the tight and intermissionless REV. 23 make for a virtuosic double bill with a condensed suite from Orfeo?)

Music of Two Spheres

In selecting Julian Wachner to compose REV. 23, Jacobs chose cannily. Mirroring the opera’s mediation between Paradise and Hell, Wachner has described his own compositional impulses as poised between what he calls the “Apollonian” – rational, ordered, sanctified – and the “Dionysian,” i.e., free, rebellious, and transgressive.

Wachner’s score thus amounts to a broad-board conspectus of historical styles, tics and tricks, rendering it quite appropriate as the music of a post-modern opera about a post-historical universe. Everything is equally at hand, equally valid, equally susceptible of repurposing and imitation – Monteverdi, Gluck, Wagner, Hindemith, Britten, Led Zeppelin, Stephen Sondheim, Metallica, Adele.

And Wachner appears clearly alive to the Orfeo inversion model. When we first encounter the denizens of Paradise – almost literally flower children, synchronously cavorting with homogeneously vapid smiles – the music is a witty (and beautiful) quotation from the “O puro ciel” of Orfeo. Wachner then develops, adorns and dramatically skews the quotation with an accretion of jazzy dissonances, as Lucifer and company distribute books and headphones, and the paradise people succumb to an orgy of rediscovered art, artifact and desire.

Elsewhere, Wachner writes saltatory, jagged, rangy vocal lines, replete with neurotic modernist stutters and repetitions of phrases. For the most part, the chthonic characters Lucifer, Hades and the Furies are called on to do heavy vocal lifting, singing with propulsive force over each other and over a lot of complex rhythmic orchestral accompaniment. By contrast, the vocal lines for Adam accommodate lightness and purity; those for Eve, a clement Broadway/pop sound. Wachner, it goes without saying, knows his voice types and mixes styles and production practices artfully.

There are certain standout set pieces in the score, such as the sinuous aria for Persephone – “Blood Rubies” – which has an upholstered, bordello-red sensuality reminiscent of a James-Bond flick title song. And the Archangel Michael gets some very showy, unapologetically florid baroque flights.

Playing with Fire

The performers were uniformly strong, pumped up, focused, and on point.

Baritone Michael Mayes limned a Lucifer of haughty, sexed-up virility – a rebel with a big cause, and a daemonic knack for seducing or intimidating others into it. His supremely dark tones were impressive, and his physical life – gyrating like Elvis, leering and menacing like the Brando of The Wild Ones – was pitched perfectly.

Hades was played with Mad Max aggressiveness by tenor Vale Rideout. His voice was potent and pliant. And one could not but admire his game tackling of the character’s inherent dramatic challenges – juggling thwarted erotic desire for Persephone, nimble intellectual counterweight to Lucifer’s mercurial temper, and an unstinting frustration at being made the lackey and subordinate in his own abode.

Soprano Colleen Daly played Persephone – the ultimate moll and muse to the opera’s two hellboys, Hades and Lucifer – with beautifully haunted, odylic vocal smolder.

The Three Furies – soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine and mezzo-sopranos Nora Graham-Smith and Melanie Long – were a trinity of unholy grunge-punk goddesses par excellence. Colorful, adorable and terrifying, dressed in leggings, tutus, perky neon wigs and wild, severed-doll-head- and Care-Bear-adorned bustiers, all three actresses mustered extraordinary precision and stamina to maintain an effective choral melding of their complex music, all while honoring equally demanding and complex physical staging requirements.

Bass-baritone David Cushing, as the ancient Chinese master of war-craft, Sun Tze, made a big impression, and generated some big laughs, with his wildly contrasting sepulchral vocal tones and his politely chirruped, tenor-light requests for tea.

Against the calloused forcefulness of the underworld characters, Adam was handsomely sung with bright church-choir purity by doe-eyed tenor Jonathan Blalock. (Blalock was also remarkable for his impressive physical evocation of Michelangelo’s Sistine Adam, as he – along with Annie Rosen’s Eve and the production’s entire eightfold corps de ballet – spent nearly their entire stage time virtually naked but for dance briefs and bikini-wear – flesh-toned before their corruption, tighty-whitey thereafter).

Mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen played Eve with beguiling openness, warmth, and remarkably sumptuous vocal fullness. (And her tastefully managed quasi-striptease during the lovely aforementioned ballad “Beyond Paradise” was a true crowd-pleaser.)

Finally, phenomenal “male soprano” Michael Maniaci, one of several currently prominent American high-voice male vocalists at the vanguard of a revival of interest in this remarkably ethereal sound, played his own eponymous archangel Michael with elegance and even a sly touch of diva-like camp. Dressed in a white Hillary pants suit, flowing blond tresses and gilt Lady Liberty aureole, Maniaci extorted full comic value from REV. 23‘s clever conflation of the sacred and the smug.

Oh, and since the job of monitoring the gates of Hell has presumably been rendered obsolete by the End Days, the hellhound Cerberus was reduced in size and terror (and number of heads), and played by a darling, scene-stealing chihuahua named Micro Jackson (whose mistress, incidentally, is Jacobs herself).

The people of Paradise were portrayed by a group of consummate dancers conscripted principally from the ranks of the Boston Ballet – Rachele Buriassi, Kendall Bush, Darius Malone, Alexander Maryianowski, Hanna Pregont, Reina Sawai, Mathew Slattery , and Yury Yanowsky, who also created the delightfully fluid choreography.

Director Mark Streshinksy kept his astonishing array of infernal and paradisiacal plates spinning expertly, while conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya was in full, hyperkinetic command of the biting rhythms and quick changes of Wachner’s rambunctious score.

Master dramaturg Cori Ellison worked on the production, and contributed an eloquent and engaging essay about farce to the production’s printed program. (Insightful notes were presented by Jacobs, Streshinksy, and Wachner as well.)

The inventive and eye-catching sets were by Zane Pihlstrom (who also designed the production’s colorful and eclectic costumes) and featured chain-link fences, projections of billowing and sulfurous exhalations (by Barry Steele), and a huge weather balloon that doubled as a swirling planet Earth as well as the glowing central core of Heaven’s generator. (The edgy peril that the balloon might deflate or even explode exemplified the brinksmanship and adventurism that permeated every strand of REV. 23‘s texture, literal and literary). Huge, illuminated, often flickering letters ranged along the back of the set spelled out a faux simulacrum of the word “Paradise” in mostly Cyrillic characters – РДЯДDІЅЗ – an arresting visual gag, presumably inviting comparison to the old Soviet Union (or current Russia?).

Effective lighting and sound designs were by Lucas Krech and David Reiffel, respectively.

The Next Big Bang

REV. 23 represents Year Two of a five-year commitment on the part of Cerise Jacobs and her White Snake Projects to produce a new opera annually. But what, in the larger scheme of things, is Cerise Jacobs up to?

By her own account, she is trying to renew relevance for opera, prove its viability as popular entertainment, and make works that will tap new audiences – those previously unmoved either by antiquarian opera, or by heavy and derivative operatic adaptations of literary, filmic or stage properties. Jacobs is rightly proud that her works are sui generis.

She is demonstrably making headway. After each Boston performance observed here, strangers were seen approaching her, admitting to being operatic neophytes, and thanking her for the REV. 23 revelation. These are not just new Jacobs fans; they are tentative new converts to the overall opera experience, each provisionally poised to give the form a run for its money.

It should be noted that Jacobs has already generated material that redounded in a Pulitzer-prize for composer Zhou Long, her collaborator on her first opera, Madame White Snake, in 2011.

So, question: where is the opera “establishment” in all this, and when will its mandarins acknowledge and afford entrée to this remarkable advocate for the modern American opera project writ large?

Jacobs’ literary and imaginative feracities are prodigious. Companies large and small each year award commissions, and jockey to produce the next big, popular, audience-enhancing operatic phenomenon.

Is anyone looking toward Boston?

Fri, October 6, 2017

“The Hubble Cantata,” an Operatically Cosmic Voyage, Comes to the Ford on Oct. 11th
LA Excites

Composed by Paola Prestini, with libretto by Royce Vavrek, and musical direction by Julian Wachner, The Hubble Cantata celebrates the interstellar junction between art, science, and technology. Joined by the LA Opera Orchestra, LA Opera Chorus, and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, renowned baritone Nathan Gunn and soprano Jessica Rivera will star in a story not only based on the published works of the distinguished astrophysicist, Dr. Mario Livio, but also narrated by him.

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“The Hubble Cantata,” an Operatically Cosmic Voyage, Comes to the Ford on Oct. 11th

By Imaan Jalali
Posted on October 6, 2017

Combining the past and the present, or the classical and the contemporary, into an attractive presentation takes a fine finesse, whereupon a symbiotic relationship is not only forged, but creates a byproduct of something more. In this case, it is the historical import and prestige of opera that is united with modern-day inventiveness to yield a sensorially ethereal experience set trillions of miles away in outer space. There, in the celestial scope of things, the audience member becomes an active listener and discoverer.

“The Hubble Cantata” performance at the 2016 BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival. Photo credit: Jill Steinberg

To make this little miracle happen in Los Angeles, “The IGNITE @ the Ford!” series is collaborating with the LA Opera, as well as co-producers, Beth Morrison Projects and National Sawdust, to bring a one-of-a-kind spectacle of sight and sound, titled The Hubble Cantata, to the Ford Theatres on the evening of October 11th. It will mark the West Coast premiere of the production, which made its debut at the 2016 BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival.

Composed by Paola Prestini, with libretto by Royce Vavrek, and musical direction by Julian Wachner, The Hubble Cantata celebrates the interstellar junction between art, science, and technology. Joined by the LA Opera Orchestra, LA Opera Chorus, and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, renowned baritone Nathan Gunn and soprano Jessica Rivera will star in a story not only based on the published works of the distinguished astrophysicist, Dr. Mario Livio, but also narrated by him.

As such, Vavrek’s artfully inspired story explores the heartbreak of a couple who have lost their child. This is tied into an allegorically transcendent message that extends far beyond our physical world and deep into the ether of the universe, where we observe the beginning and, oftentimes, inexplicable loss of life as symbolized by the genesis and death of a star (supernova).

The prospect of being able to journey through space and time, and to thus see outside of ourselves and our merely Earthly purpose, as afforded by a cosmic perspective, is carried out to fruition by the astounding technology on hand for this performance. This will be best represented via a five-minute virtual-reality film by Eliza McNitt called Fistful of Stars, which premiered at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival in 2016, and will be experienced at the conclusion of the cantata. Virtual-reality headsets provided by the FX firm, The Endless Collective, and bolstered by stereophonic sound, courtesy of the sound design company, Arup, will enable attendees to transport themselves to the breathtaking Orion Nebula. Aided by convincing photorealistic simulations and images from the Hubble Space Telescope, viewers will note a feeling of “floating” and gravitational pull within an immersive and panoramically resplendent experience that can’t be missed.

Even more impressive is that the virtual-reality odyssey of a Fistful of Stars will be activated by a downloadable app of the same name on users’ smart phones prior to “liftoff.” If one doesn’t own a smart phone, the film can still be viewed on the scrim that it is projected onto. In either case, an operatic ode to humanity, as well as our primordial origins as stardust within the greater expanse of the unknown, is in store for those who attend this otherworldly extravaganza on October 11th.

Though the show begins at 8:00 p.m., there will be a pre-show discussion at 7:30 p.m. with Dr. Livio and the curator of the Griffith Observatory, Dr. Laura Danly.

For more information, and to purchase tickets to “The Hubble Cantata” at the Ford Theatres, please visit:

fordtheatres.org/calendar/hubble-cantata

Thu, October 5, 2017

Rev.23 Take Two
The Boston Musical Intelligencer

Wachner focused on writing music that held together via a tactus, otherwise known more colloquially as an internal pulse, letting the style vary from there. What happens as a result is that serial pointillism gets juxtaposed against musical theater in the vein of Leonard Bernstein or Stephen Sondheim, bel canto arias get juxtaposed against swing, and the style varies wildly. Due to using the inner pulse, though, Wachner ensured that all of the material does not feel disconnected from what comes before it and after it, creating an endlessly unfolding chain of highly controlled polystylism. Sometimes, styles nested within one another: an aggressive but static accompaniment reminiscent of John Adams and Nixon in China smashed in a pointillistic tone row above it, an actual moment from the beginning of the first act (I inadvertently got a work-in-progress copy of the REV. 23 score from the Beth Morrison Projects workshop at New England Conservatory, verified by Wachner, so that statement came from theoretical analysis). Having an extensive knowledge in the comic opera literature himself, Wachner also used Falstaff, Gianni Schicchi, Albert Herring, and Christopher Sly as models for writing comic operas, and this research shows in how the music can be bipolar in character to highlight the needed emotion. The music at times became referential too, heightening the polystylism and taking direct references from Wagner (the Tristan chord) and Handel (the Baroque-sounding consort under the introduction of Archangel Michael), among a multitude of others. Hearing such references is fairly novel and entertaining, showing the production is very aware of its lineage.

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OCTOBER 5, 2017
Rev.23 Take Two
by Ian Wiese

Revelation 22 happened, it says in the Bible. Paradise and Earth merged, one in the same, and the souls of the saved enjoy endless day, free from hatred, wantonness, and despair. The Archangel Michael cast Lucifer, the Bringer of Light, down into the black pit of Hell a second time, ending humanity’s strife and preserving us in God’s grace until the end of time.

But it ain’t necessarily so. What if Lucifer tried once again, this time introducing lost feelings to mankind such as sadness and anger to balance endless joy through literature? What if that caused mankind to turn on God to preserve the new knowledge? Composer Julian Wachner and librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs, under White Snake Projects hot on the heels of the highly successful Ouroboros Trilogy, ask and answer that very same question in REV. 23, which recently closed its performance run at John Hancock Hall from September 29th-October 1st. Except instead of only being rooted in Abrahamic Christian characters, throw in Greek gods, demigods, and The Art of War writer Sun Tsu/Tse. Also, instead of being a serious drama, it’s a farce, satirizing historical and modern political authoritarianism and intellectualism. Mixed in together, REV. 23 paves out a road for itself: a punk rock influenced romp through the second tragic fall of man while laughing sadistically all the way home.

Picking up immediately after Paradise and Earth have merged, Lucifer and Hades, the Greek god of the Underworld, attempt to sabotage the power generator providing endless day in Paradise (known in the story as “Up There”). Failing, they both escape back to Hell (“Down Here”), where they wallow in frustration at losing their last chance to destroy it and bring darkness back to earth. Lucifer wants to spite God once again for casting him back down into Down Here while Hades wants to bring Winter back to earth in order to see Persephone once again. Shortly thereafter, Persephone returns to Down Here, wanting to be with Hades again, as she loves him now, and also desiring that the world be brought back into Winter so that when she returns she can make the flowers bloom once again in Spring. Realizing all their goals line up, Hades summons the master tactician, Sun Tse, stuck Down Here for writing the most referenced book on warfare. Sun Tse comes up with a plan of poisoning the minds of all the humans Up There with knowledge: “art, literature, drama, opera, heavy metal, pop!” Passing out books, music, and strangely enough iPads and iPhones, the quartet (along with the Three Furies, who mostly do Hades’s bidding, zip around, and play the part of the Greek chorus commenting on everything, despite not being actively involved in the plot) begins to feed new emotions to the residents of Up There. Two in particular, Adam and Eve (from the Book of Genesis, the original sinners), especially take to the new material, loving the new emotions they experience. Persephone takes them to the generator while Hades and Lucifer continue with the residents of Up There, only to be interrupted by Archangel Michael who stops Lucifer by forcing him into the light. Weakened, Lucifer flees while Michael stops Persephone, kidnapping Adam and Eve in the process, soon setting up re-education camps for Up There. Lucifer, Hades, and Persephone seek Sun Tse again, looking for a way to free Adam and Eve. On a suggestion of infiltration, all the main denizens of Down Here disguise themselves to fit in with the re-education camp, which has begun a book burning of all the material that had been distributed, fueling the power generator. When Eve asks to preserve her favorite book, Romeo and Juliet, Michael commands her to toss it into the furnace, prompting Eve to question the value of eternal life without her pleasure. In a fit of desperation, Eve grabs the Book of Life, which contains all the names of those allowed to stay in Paradise, and throws it into the furnace instead, destroying Paradise, Down Here, and the rest of the universe as the story of the Bible begins once again, creating an endless cycle of destruction and rebuilding.

The story itself is a solid, if not blasphemous, circle for the Book of Revelation to take, cycling mankind back through the same sordid history it once had. Some elements, though, do not hold up under question, IE why does Hades want to bring back Winter to see Persephone if Persephone can come and go in this end of times, as implied near the beginning? These questions aren’t nitpicking, either: they represent large character motivations, which given how the story of REV. 23 is focused on character leaves major holes. Also, some characters are not as actively involved as others, such as Adam (whose major contribution is that he throws the Book of Life in the furnace along with Eve) and the Three Furies (which is understandable, as they represent the aforementioned Greek chorus commenting on the story and actions), despite being major roles. The desire to create voice roles for different voice types may have driven this thought process, but as an outsider it’s hard to tell for sure. The most jarring aspect, though, has to be the merging of several different mythologies, Christian with Greek with Chinese. Someone explained it later that in Singapore, Cerise Lim Jacobs’s home country, all matter of religions and philosophies mingle with each other, pollenating ideas freely, so given that bit of information, it makes a lot more sense to see these widely varying mythologies together in one story. As an overarching plot, however, everything functions well in the confines of an opera, wrapping Book of Revelation around with a slightly warped and reconfigured story of the temptation of Adam and Eve with the Apple of Knowledge.

In a way, that’s REV. 23’s greatest strength as a story. The phrase “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” ring true in the ears of those looking into the symbolism of the story. Everything is a mashed together version of the beginning and the ending of the Bible, creating the necessary circle to show that mankind will never truly learn from any past mistakes. It’s no mystery why Adam and Eve are the ones who bring upon the destruction of Paradise: they were the original sinners, the ones who ate the Forbidden Fruit and doomed mankind to life tainted by the original sin. But in this version, both Lucifer and Michael/God aren’t black-and-white good and evil. Lucifer wants to bring back darkness to mankind, but he does it through the reintroduction of knowledge to man, acting as a bringer not only of light but of intellectualism. Michael wants Paradise and eternal happiness for all of God’s creation, yet he attempts to save everyone by enacting a Khmer Rouge-style re-education camp, propagandizing and demonizing knowledge in the vein of Soviet Russia (the program book mentions its response to Donald Trump both overtly and covertly several times, though the final product reeks less of populism and more of strict Maoist authoritarianism, failing that litmus test hard). That’s the real secret of REV. 23: ignoring some of the surface-level flaws, several deep questions and carefully constructed grey morality beg the audience to ask “is there truly good in this story?”

Wachner focused on writing music that held together via a tactus, otherwise known more colloquially as an internal pulse, letting the style vary from there. What happens as a result is that serial pointillism gets juxtaposed against musical theater in the vein of Leonard Bernstein or Stephen Sondheim, bel canto arias get juxtaposed against swing, and the style varies wildly. Due to using the inner pulse, though, Wachner ensured that all of the material does not feel disconnected from what comes before it and after it, creating an endlessly unfolding chain of highly controlled polystylism. Sometimes, styles nested within one another: an aggressive but static accompaniment reminiscent of John Adams and Nixon in China smashed in a pointillistic tone row above it, an actual moment from the beginning of the first act (I inadvertently got a work-in-progress copy of the REV. 23 score from the Beth Morrison Projects workshop at New England Conservatory, verified by Wachner, so that statement came from theoretical analysis). Having an extensive knowledge in the comic opera literature himself, Wachner also used Falstaff, Gianni Schicchi, Albert Herring, and Christopher Slyas models for writing comic operas, and this research shows in how the music can be bipolar in character to highlight the needed emotion. The music at times became referential too, heightening the polystylism and taking direct references from Wagner (the Tristan chord) and Handel (the Baroque-sounding consort under the introduction of Archangel Michael), among a multitude of others. Hearing such references is fairly novel and entertaining, showing the production is very aware of its lineage.

The production felt reminiscent of the recent Boston Lyric Opera production of Mark Anthony Turnage’s Greek with chain link fences and constructed metal ramps. Behind the fence that defined the visible backstage, a flickering neon sign spelled out “Paradise” in a font best described as reminiscent of Soviet Russian signs. The package felt as though it reached back into the late 1980s Mikhail Gorbachev era East Germany and threw it in front of us. Given how the story continued to reference Soviet-style re-education, the staging was effective and stark. The costumes reflected this feeling, an unnerving mashing of punk rock spiked hair and leather forced together with whatever trash could be scrounged together, like a license plate emblazoned with 666 or two Care Bears heads acting as bra cups, supplemented by projections for difficult effects, like Archangel Michael’s wings. Contrasted against the naked beings of Up There (not actually naked, the actors wore skin colored underwear and fig leaves), it was gritty and impolite, exactly what the designers were going for.

All the vocalists showed their own unique power in their roles, despite the unfortunate masking of many of the vocal lines in the exceedingly dry John Hancock Hall (made worse by the orchestra being amplified like a Broadway production). Baritone Michael Mayes as Lucifer growled his way through the role, exuding rage and anger but remaining personable. Tenor Vale Rideout as Hades had the best time in the hall; his voice easily carried over the amplification the best, both cutting and dramatic. Soprano Colleen Daly in the role of Persephone maintained fragility and desire yet never succumbed to feeling weak (her performance of the best-known aria “Blood Rubies” was the highlight of the production). The only bass in the production, David Cushing as Sun Tse, carried himself with grace yet allowed himself to enter into basso buffo territory, creating a unique portrayal of the music and one of the more memorable characters in the production. Tenor Jonathan Blalock and soprano Annie Rosen, as Adam and Eve respectively, meshed their voices well together, acting as one voice when they needed to while personifying innocence in how light each of them sounded. The true standout, however, was countertenor Michael Maniaci portraying Archangel Michael. Maniaci’s voice, both effected and unaffected, was a complete powerhouse, tearing through any issues with the hall and demanding attention immediately turn to him. The role was also one of the more wholly operatic ones, so Maniaci could work with the vocal lines he had to show more of his own unique strength. Each of the Three Furies, sopranos Nora Graham-Smith, Jamie-Rose Guarrine, and Melanie Long, did their roles admirably, taking what little material they were given and turning it into a nasally chorus of fluttering noise behind everyone else; each soprano blended well with the other, and all the material was enjoyable, especially in how they carried themselves, slinking around and throwing themselves every which way. Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya of Juventas New Music Ensemble handled both the orchestra and the vocalists under her baton extremely well, taking risks in the ensemble balance where she needed to without overdoing anything.

All in all, REV. 23 was a comedic romp through deadly serious matters. Man falls a second time, but that’s what it wants us to know as an audience: we never will learn from our mistakes, and those who are both trying to help and control us haven’t learned either. By taking these disjointed feelings and rolling with them from stage to score, the opera clearly demonstrates what it wants to say.

Thu, October 5, 2017

REV. 23: A Gnostic Farce
The Boston Musical Intelligencer

Wachner’s REV. 23 sounds as broad, interesting, and brightly colored as the characters and plot of Jacobs’ libretto. He describes a tactus, or inner pulse, as an organizing principle for his music. Rather than developing themes or a harmonic palette throughout the opera, it is this pulse that unifies the entire work and compels it forward. Thus, Wachner is able to maintain cohesion with this rhythmic discipline, while sampling and playing with all manner of color and genre. To be sure, much of the opera’s affable 12-tone language is also informed by the expectations and conventions of musical theater. Wachner’s excursions to different genres t keep REV. 23 exciting and fun: an early-Romantic ballet accompanies the dancers that appear in the second act; a Handelian movement accompanies the Archangel Michael’s first appearance on stage. Scattered among musical numbers that could have been lifted straight out of Sweeney Todd or Rent are arias and ensemble pieces that Alban Berg or Benjamin Britten would have been proud to have written. Amidst this entertaining gallimaufry, Wachner often reveals deep emotional intelligence: Persephone’s mournful second-act aria was a highlight of the evening; Eve’s “I don’t know what’s beyond Paradise” in the final act provided a sobering conclusion to the breathless absurdity that is REV. 23…An eccentric vision of a world before the Beginning, REV. 23 received an eager standing ovation from an ecstatic audience.

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Published by Sudeep Agarwala in Reviews on October 5, 2017

REV. 23: A Gnostic Farce

In 2010, Cerise Lim Jacobs commissioned Chinese-American composer Zhou Long to set her libretto, White Snake to music. This collaboration won critical acclaim widely, winning Long the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his work on the opera, and setting the seed for Jacobs’s White Snake Projects: a foundation that commissions American composers to set Jacobs libretti. These collaborations began in 2016, with the premiere of the Ouroboros Trilogy in which Scott Wheeler’s Naga and Paola Prestini’s Gilgamesh book-ended Long’s prize-winning work. The premiere was extensively covered by the Intelligencer hereand here; and was thoughtfully reviewed by Justin Casinghino for BMInt here.

REV. 23, a collaboration with composer Julian Wachner, allows Jacobs to imagine herself transcribing the dictation of St. John the Divine as he reveals a new final chapter to the book of Revelations (the concluding book of the Christian Bible). Revelations 22 tells of how the Archangel Michael suppresses a revolt against Heaven by Lucifer. Jacobs’s new chapter narrates how Lucifer wages another revolt against the Archangel Michael and returns the world to a state poised at the beginning of time. How fitting that this opera received its premiere in Boston’s John Hancock Hall on Friday, September 29th—the feast day of the Archangel Michael.

REV. 23 is no Paradise Lost, and perhaps it’s best not to think too deeply or critically about the libretto’s plot. In the opera’s cosmos, Hades and the Furies begrudgingly share the underworld with a lascivious Lucifer, frustrated with his fall from Heaven. It is unclear what caused it, but there has been an outage at the cosmic power plant that keeps everything in perpetual summer and light. Enter Persephone, who has been jolted into remembering a world with seasons. For unclear reasons, the three deities team up to bring knowledge to Earth and Paradise, and take military advice from the 6th Century BCE Taoist philosopher and author of the Art of War, Sun Tzu, before they wage their campaign (best not to spend too much time wondering how or why he comes into this world). This Gnostic universe filled with crudely drawn characters and improbable plot points also loads on kitschy fun that means to sweep its audience away with its dizzy slapstick.

But gentle probing into the libretto’s text reveals some uncomfortable darkness: are we meant to laugh when Sun Tzu blithely suggests Hitler’s Mein Kampf, stands on equal footing with Romeo and Juliet, or that Anna Karenina, is a good book for the inhabitants of Paradise to read? Later in the play, after losing a battle with the Archangel Michael, Lucifer laughs and proclaims himself “Death, destroyer of worlds”–a chilling reference Oppenheimer’s famous quotation from the Bhagavad Gita after seeing the destructive power of his atomic bomb. We are reminded again of the 20th century’s horrors when the inhabitants of Hades deride the Archangel Michael’s “re-education camps”, comparing them to the Khmer Rouge, among other genocidal authoritarian groups. What does Jacobs mean with these references to tragedies of modern history? It is jarring to hear them approached in this light comedy with such little gravitas. Certainly, few subjects should be so hallowed as to be off limits to mockery or parody. However, to interpret everything in REV. 23 as a lighthearted stunt is to ascribe no meaning to the work at all; to delve instead into the libretto’s politics requires careful attention all of the details. The audience left wondering how seriously to interpret Jacobs’ farcical drama.

Currently the Director of Music and the Arts at Trinity Wall Street in New York City, Julian Wachner is no stranger to Boston audiences. Wachner arrived as an undergraduate to study composition at Boston University, where he later completed his doctorate, all the while, rising to prominence as a conductor, educator, and most importantly, composer. During his tenure as organist and choir master at BU’s Marsh Chapel, Wachner composed liturgical pieces that are still widely performed throughout Boston; his recordings with multiple Boston ensembles still garner acclaim.

Wachner’s REV. 23 sounds as broad, interesting, and brightly colored as the characters and plot of Jacobs’ libretto. He describes a tactus, or inner pulse, as an organizing principle for his music. Rather than developing themes or a harmonic palette throughout the opera, it is this pulse that unifies the entire work and compels it forward. Thus, Wachner is able to maintain cohesion with this rhythmic discipline, while sampling and playing with all manner of color and genre. To be sure, much of the opera’s affable 12-tone language is also informed by the expectations and conventions of musical theater. Wachner’s excursions to different genres t keep REV. 23 exciting and fun: an early-Romantic ballet accompanies the dancers that appear in the second act; a Handelian movement accompanies the Archangel Michael’s first appearance on stage. Scattered among musical numbers that could have been lifted straight out of Sweeney Todd or Rent are arias and ensemble pieces that Alban Berg or Benjamin Britten would have been proud to have written. Amidst this entertaining gallimaufry, Wachner often reveals deep emotional intelligence: Persephone’s mournful second-act aria was a highlight of the evening; Eve’s “I don’t know what’s beyond Paradise” in the final act provided a sobering conclusion to the breathless absurdity that is REV. 23.

Friday evening’s performance buzzed with wit and energy. Zane Pihlstrom’s sets featured an industrial setting complete with scaffolding and chain-linked fences that flexibly adapted to the scene changes between Paradise and the Underworld. Sexy and fun costumes adorned male citizens of Hades in the denim and leather of punk rockers and sported bejeweled cod-pieces; Furies flitted about the stage in halter tops, colorful leggings, and hot pants. The inhabitants of Paradise made do with far less material (a fig leaf goes a long way in Pihlstrom’s hands), but their fall and subsequent shame brings them into the world of braziers and underpants. Director Mark Streshinsky’s vision for the opera, in collaboration with choreographer Yury Yanowsky and dramaturg Cori Ellison, teems with a distinctive sophisticated style.

The evening was marked by many fine performances. Lidiya Yankovskaya led a fully committed pit orchestra that met the challenges of Wachner’s wide-ranging vision with ease, although an over-exuberant ensemble sometimes overwhelmed the voices in the very dry but surprisingly serviceable John Hancock Hall. Baritone Michael Mayes (Lucifer), tenor Vale Rideout (Hades), and soprano Colleen Daly (Persephone), occupied center stage early on. Mayes’s resonant baritone portrayed a jovial, if put-upon Lucifer, frustrated with the underworld, but not immune to the carnal distractions of the Furies or, when he re-takes Paradise, of a scantily-clad Adam. Early on, Vale Rideout seemed tattered in the extremes of his range, but embodied a self-centered, jealous Hades with bold, well-shaped tone. As Persephone, Colleen Daly’s powerful soprano proved as comfortable with histrionic drama, as with rich, meditative arias. Later, countertenor Michael Maniaci (Archangel Michael) joined the fun with a clear, exquisitely controlled, but flexible sound that negotiated labyrinthine melismae with ease and clarity. Well-cast supporting roles made essential contributions to the success of Friday evening’s premiere: small-ensemble work by the three Furies (Nora Graham-Smith, Jamie-Rose Guarrine, and Melanie Long) balanced and executed impressively, especially in light of the acrobatics of their staging. Jonathan Blalock and Annie Rosen performed the wide-eyed Adam and Eve; bass-baritone David Cushing’s envisioned a bumbling, congenial Sun Tzu.

An eccentric vision of a world before the Beginning, REV. 23 received an eager standing ovation from an ecstatic audience. This run continues in John Hancock Hall on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. White Snake Projects has already committed to producing PermaDeath, a collaboration between Cerise Lim Jacobs, her son Pirate Epstein, and composer Dan Visconti, set to premiere in 2018; two other projects, Monkey, and Cosmic Cowboy are slated to premiere in 2019, and 2020, respectively.

Tue, October 3, 2017

From the Book of Revelation, an operatic chapter you never knew
The Boston Globe

Sunday’s audience rose to its feet…Wachner’s protean score deftly employs a grab-bag of 20th-century operatic and musical-theater styles to hold a mirror to the libretto.

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OPERA REVIEW

From the Book of Revelation, an operatic chapter you never knew

By Jeremy Eichler GLOBE STAFF  

OCTOBER 03, 2017

Many have observed that present-day politics have made it tough for comedians accustomed to bouncing one-liners off headlines, since events in the news already seem more outlandish than anything the comedic mind might conjure.  

But how about an operatic farce, would that fare any better? The indefatigable Boston opera impresario Cerise Lim Jacobs, together with her production company White Snake Projects, has recruited a new team of collaborators to give it a shot, including composer Julian Wachner, director Mark Streshinsky, and dramaturg Cori Ellison. The resulting project, titled “Rev. 23,” premiered this weekend at John Hancock Hall.  

As with her past projects, which include the opera “Madame White Snake” and the “Ouroboros Trilogy,” Jacobs has supplied the concept and libretto for “Rev. 23.” The program describes it as “a farcical hellish opera” and as “a parable of our times,” one that takes the form of an imaginary new completion of the Book of Revelation, which, in the real New Testament version, ends after 22 chapters. The official synopsis tells us that, at the opera’s opening, “the Kingdom of God has come upon the Earth. There is no darkness, want, or strife.”  

What there is, is a vivid set (by Zane Pihlstrom) that smoothly pivots between a place described as “UP THERE” — at least nominally, a version of paradise — and “DOWN HERE,” which the program calls “the deepest pit of Hell.” The characters form a motley ancient, mythic, and post-apocalyptic crew. Greco-Roman gods mingle with biblical figures (including the Archangel Michael and Adam and Eve) and Sun Tze, author of “The Art of War,” is brought in as a consultant. Loosely stated, the opera’s plot centers on the scheming of Lucifer and Hades, who are on a mission to wreak havoc in the world of paradise, all in the name of returning darkness to a supposed utopia of perpetual light. 

Somewhere here may be the ingredients for a hilarious existentialist romp, perhaps in an early-Woody Allen vein — but, I’m very sorry to have to report, “Rev. 23” is definitely not it. At Sunday’s performance, the last in a run of three, the opera came across as a cheerfully, earnestly yet nonetheless supremely muddled work, a piece that seems to place both big laughs and big ideas in its sights without really knowing how to hit the mark in either case.  

The big ideas Jacobs is keen to explore are worthy and, indeed, timeless: that good and evil, joy and suffering, light and darkness only take on meaning in each other’s presence, and that experiencing their inseparability is part of what it means to be human. But this is terrain best approached obliquely, and through the resonance that builds from onstage interactions of characters that an audience can actually care about. There is a dearth of such characters in “Rev. 23.” In their place we are given two-dimensional gods, warriors and ciphers, and other figures who seem to have drifted from the pages of a Joseph Campbell lecture. 

As for the big laughs, what’s funny is always a highly personal question. Aside from the odd political-topical reference, this opera pins its comic hopes on a succession of antic schemes perpetuated by the denizens of DOWN HERE: to blow up a generator that powers the eternal light of paradise; to infect the pristine minds of the land UP THERE with art, literature, iPads, and televisions; to kidnap Adam and Eve. You get the idea. 

When the protagonists are not busy with these plots, they tend to muse in earnest and baldly metaphysical terms. I’ll let them speak for themselves. “What a sham, what a farce,” Lucifer sings at one point, “this duel between good and evil/When good and evil spring from the very same place/The mind of God.” For her part, Eve yearns for “a brave new world/On the other side of sunrise/Where butterflies go to die.” 

Wachner’s protean score deftly employs a grab-bag of 20th-century operatic and musical-theater styles to hold a mirror to the libretto. And on Sunday, a capable ensemble cast turned in highly committed performances, including Michael Mayes as Lucifer, Vale Rideout as Hades, Colleen Daly as Persephone, Michael Maniaci as Archangel Michael, David Cushing as Sun Tze, Jonathan Blalock as Adam, and Annie Rosen as Eve. From the pit, conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya steered the ship with care and precision.

But does “Rev. 23” add up to more than the sum of its many parts? For me, not remotely. For others, apparently yes. Sunday’s audience rose to its feet, so consider this a minority view. Next up for Jacobs and White Snake Projects, in September 2018, will be “PermaDeath: A Video Game Opera.”

REV. 23

Julian Wachner, composer; Cerise Lim Jacobs, librettist

Presented by White Snake Projects

At John Hancock Hall, Sunday

Tue, October 3, 2017

Fair is Foul. Foul is Fair*: “Rev. 23: A Hellish, Farcical Opera”
The New England Theatre Geek

Rev. 23: A Farcical, Hellish Opera is a compendium of arts references bursting with innuendo and cheeky wit…

Magnificent beast of a score!

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Fair is Foul. Foul is Fair*: “Rev. 23: A Hellish, Farcical Opera”

Posted on October 3, 2017 by Kitty Drexel

Presented by White Snake Projects
Creator and libretto by Cerise Lim Jacobs
Composed by Julian Wachner
Directed by Mark Streshinsky
Conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya
Dramaturgy by Cori Ellison
Choreography by Yury Yanowsky

Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 2017
John Hancock Hall
Boston, MA
White Snake Projects on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

“The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.”
Revelation 21:23, Bible, New International Version  (NIV)

(Boston, MA) White Snake Projects is giving the BLO a run for their money. It’s my sincere hope that artists and their audience will watch the works of both companies but, if one has to choose, WSP may be the winner in the competition for attendees. Its edgy productions are worth the commitment.

Rev. 23: A Farcical, Hellish Opera is a compendium of arts references bursting with innuendo and cheeky wit. The premise is simple: Greek Gods bust into Christianity’s Heaven to shake up the boundaries between good and evil. Lead by Lucifer (Michael Meyers), domestic abuser Hades (Vale Rideout), and recovering assault victim Persephone (Colleen Daly) convince Adam (Jonathan) & Eve (Annie Rosen) to blow up the generator causing perpetual Summer. Their goal is to achieve perpetual winter. Gleeful chaos ensues.

This is easily the most yuppie punk show I’ve seen all year. Librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs and director Mark Streshinsky are not messing around with their work. Rev. 23 is an opera firmly rooted in the 21st Century. Lidiya Yankovskaya’s vivacious conducting might as well have been head banging for all her hard work corralling Julian Wachner’s magnificent beast of a score. Add to the mix the tarted up Furies (Nora Graham-Smith, Melanie Long, Jamie-Rose Guarrine) flitting around Hell like deranged pixies at a bacchanal, and you’ve got one wild ride.   

The vocals were amazing. Despite the stage swallowing sound from anyone more than five feet from the lip, the diction was crisp within those five feet. The cast made it obvious with their presentations that they were working very hard to communicate the libretto to us. They were effective enough to win against the supertitles 80% of the time. 

The neglectful fable that opera singers can’t or shouldn’t act must die. Anyone looking for examples against this lie should look to Rev. 23.  

Zane Pihlstrom’s costuming was insane. The occupants of “Hell” were dressed in S&M meets Ed Hardy chic. (Lucifer’s extra flamey codpiece was fascinating.) Pretty much exactly what one would imagine Hell’s catwalk would feature. In contrast, “Heaven” is populated by extremely attractive, mostly naked people in minimal amounts of fig leafery. The nightmarish CCD uninformslooked an awful lot like red prison jumpsuits. It was the stuff of nightmares.

Rev. 23 openly mocks biblical stories. Several people left during the production’s Archangel humiliation scene, and did not come back. Shockingly, the deserters were totally cool with Greek Gods receiving the same treatment.

Opera does not get a pass for casting white people in roles depicted as People of Color. Black, Brown and Yellow face are unacceptable on any stage. It’s not as if classical music is missing the necessary humans for these roles. It’s awesome that POCs were used in typically white roles. Do more. 

In Rev. 23,  the Gods subvert Heaven with artistic materials. Adam and Eve are perverted into awareness by Romeo and Juliet. At a time when the bigots occupying Capitol Hill are defunding everything except their own pockets, we must resist. Take an example from White Snake Projects. Use your art for good… Or, at the very least, to upset whatever the automatons in the White House are shilling.  

*Mackers

Mon, October 2, 2017

Opera Finds Devil Feeling The Heat, Looking To Chill
Classical Voice North America

Wachner’s endlessly creative score moved with integrity and versatility among styles, not only rock, jazz, and bluesy settings, but affecting chamber music….The opera played as one continuous act, almost two hours long.

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Opera Finds Devil Feeling The Heat, Looking To Chill

By Keith Powers

BOSTON – Hell just seems like it would be a lot more fun.

Like every depiction of the fiery pit since Milton’s Paradise Lost, the hell in Julian Wachner’s opera REV. 23, which premiered Sept. 29 at John Hancock Hall in Boston’s Copley Square, holds a lot of appeal.

Just ask Adam and Eve.

In a fanciful imagining of an unpublished final chapter of Revelation, where Lucifer and Hades make another attempt to infiltrate heaven and turn off the power, Wachner’s REV. 23 paints a picture of the frustrations of the devil, and his methods for tempting the peace-out, smiley-faced automatons who live up above.

Inspiration for REV. 23 comes partly from video games, partly from farce, and partly from romance. It’s highlighted by Wachner’s inventive score, but seriously limited by a hackneyed libretto (Cerise Lim Jacobs), full of clunky idioms and grade-school rhymes.

Lidiya Yankovskaya conducted the chamber ensemble in the pit, the music providing a welcome respite from the sing-song lyrics. The movement onstage – by dancers and singers – was also intriguing and well conceived by director Mark Streshinsky, making REV. 23 far from a total loss.

Wachner’s endlessly creative score moved with integrity and versatility among styles, not only rock, jazz, and bluesy settings, but affecting chamber music. Yankovskaya worked it assiduously, keeping a firm grip on the activities in the pit and the sometimes hectic action onstage. The opera played as one continuous act, almost two hours long.

The plot works something like this: Lucifer (baritone Michael Mayes) and Hades (a character, not just a place, sung by tenor Vale Rideout), plot to bring back winter. It’s hot down there, after all.

Hades is also motivated by love: His Persephone (the lustrous soprano Colleen Daly), who can move freely between the two realms, has left him for heaven, mostly because of the climate.

Their plan centers around blowing up the almighty power plant, and they engage the comical – in a war-like way – Sun Tze (bass David Cushing) to strategize a takeover. They need to tempt Adam (tenor Jonathan Blalock) and Eve (terrific mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen) with apples and iPads and romantic literature.

Let that suffice for a summary. The story line, like the words that detail it, has no depth anyway. Hell is hot. Three Furies dress and act like pole dancers: that kind of hot. Heaven is cool, with its underwear-sporting airheads gazing off into the bliss. When Lucifer and Hades tempt the distance-gazers, it’s easy pickings.

The effective set (designed by Zane Pihlstrom, who did costumes as well) remains largely the same throughout. A luminous globe hangs center stage from the ceiling – alternately lit up as earth hanging in the balance or glowing ominously as the heavenly power source. Movable risers work well as shifting platforms for action and arias.

The singing was first rate. Mayes and Rideout were well suited to their roles. Mayes set a fiercely nasty tone from the opening bars. Superb countertenor Michael Maniaci – cast in the curious role of Archangel Michael, who fails spectacularly to defend heaven and somehow thinks that burning books will restore innocence – was unfortunately underused in this production. Cushing’s bass-baritone was well employed as the supercilious Sun-Tze.

It was Colleen Daly’s Persephone who had arias best suited to her lyric powers. Her “Blood Rubies,” backed by a muted trumpet (Sam Thurston), set the mood for an elegant dance interlude. Her introductory aria, explaining her unique predicament, was actually touching.

A troupe of a dozen or so dancers filled out the ranks of the heaven dwellers, and their movement all evening, choreographed by former Boston Ballet soloist Yury Yanowsky, was a highlight. The dancers transitioned easily between idioms, from dub to robotic to balletic, enhancing the action without drawing attention excessively to their own supporting role.

Costumes ranged from over-the-top, biker bad-boy leather (you can guess who that was) to tidy whiteys (another reason to avoid heaven). Fig leaves, cod pieces, and other naughty-bits coverings played a role in the plot, and in the humor. In fact, if this were a straight parody, the opera might have had more integrity. The times it did seem like a mock (or rock) opera – think Queen doing Faust – were the most successful.

But even the best music needs lyrics that move, explain, or envelop the action realistically. No matter how engaging the sound, when the Furies sing “Plant the fruit, all will go kaput,” it’s hard not to giggle with embarrassment.

Rosen, in Eve’s aria “Beyond Paradise,” proved the case. Singing lyrical art-song, with piano (Julia Carey) accompaniment, about her desire to see past the Happy Valley confines of heaven, she ended up going on and on with silly postulations. When the aria climaxes with her longing to see “where butterflies go to die” – well, that about sums up the intellectual complexity of this libretto.

Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith.

Thu, September 14, 2017

Diamonds shine amid the roughness at Time’s Arrow Festival
New York Classical Review

If there is such a thing as the secret history of 20th century classical music, it is surely found in Webern’s music. One of the triumvirate of atonality—along with Schoenberg and Berg—Webern stood apart by making, in the words of composer Marti Epstein, music “that sounded . . .  like something new.”

Epstein and conductor Julian Wachner were discussing Webern Wednesday afternoon, prior to the second day of Trinity Wall Street’s Time’s Arrow Festival, which across this season and next will present all of his music and a substantial amount of what followed him.

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Diamonds shine amid the roughness at Time’s Arrow Festival

Thu Sep 14, 2017 at 11:10 am
By George Grella

Marti Epstein’s music was performed Wednesday at the Time’s Arrow Festival.

Igor Stravinsky said of Anton Webern, “Doomed to total failure in a deaf world of ignorance and indifference, he inexorably kept on cutting out his diamonds, his dazzling diamonds, of whose mines he had a perfect knowledge.”

If there is such a thing as the secret history of 20th century classical music, it is surely found in Webern’s music. One of the triumvirate of atonality—along with Schoenberg and Berg—Webern stood apart by making, in the words of composer Marti Epstein, music “that sounded . . .  like something new.”

Epstein and conductor Julian Wachner were discussing Webern Wednesday afternoon, prior to the second day of Trinity Wall Street’s Time’s Arrow Festival, which across this season and next will present all of his music and a substantial amount of what followed him.

Wednesday’s matinée was thin on Webern—the Konzert für 9 Instruments, Op. 24, and 5 Geistliche Lieder, Op. 15—and generous on those who followed him, including two works from Epstein that bookended the performance. Her music and that from Babbitt, Stockhausen, and Heinz Holliger, showed his legacy flowing down one substantial path of his legacy. As Epstein and Wachner described it, that included the obvious atonality, as well as Webern’s masterful pointillism and klangfarbenmelodie—the diamonds Stravinsky heard—and more subtly the movement away from an audible pulse.

The two Webern performances were inconsistent, the uneven quality presenting an inadequate picture of his achievements and the music’s importance. The playing in the Op. 24 Konzert from members of the NOVUS NY ensemble was surprisingly harsh, and the musicians left barely any of the fundamental, precious space that Webern scrupulously carved. It seemed they could not see the light nor hear the delicate, precise beauty within.

With mezzo Melissa Attebury conducting the ensemble while singing, the Op. 15 songs were more successful. Her singing was graceful, even though the St. Paul’s Chapel acoustics don’t flatter high voices, and the musicians followed her expressive lead. Webern does sound like something new, still, but he was also a fundamentally lyrical composer—Attebury and the musicians got this.

All the remaining performances were impressive. Babbitt’s and Stockhausen’s instrumental ensemble pieces, Composition for Twelve Instruments and the classic Kontra Punkte, were particularly well played. Even with Wachner furiously beating Stockhausen’s complex notated rhythms, the music in each performance floated free of any pulse while remaining clearly and solidly organized. Where the feeling of flow was absent from the Op. 24, in both of these the music glided along, the players sympathetic to the aesthetic and in expressive conversation with each other.

Soprano Charlotte Mundy sang Holliger’s Four miniatures for soprano, oboe d’amore, celesta and harp. This is a superb piece, honoring Webern with its precision, delicacy, and inner space, while in Holliger’s incisive, succinct voice. This was also the piece that, after Webern, made best use of klangfarbenmelodie. Oboist Stuart Breczinski equalled Mundy in expressive lyricism, and the soprano’s legato was effortless and silvery.

Epstein turned out to be the featured composer. A self-described minimalist like Webern, her opening Abraham Lincoln’s Mystic Chords of Mercy was modest and her closing Troubled Queen was the most substantial, and satisfying, contemporary work on the program.

Both shared a sense of melancholy darkness, and the juxtaposition of tonal counterpoint and tightly voiced, dissonant piano chords. Mystic Chords made for a minor overture, but Troubled Queen left a deep impression. A meditation on Jackson Pollock, the music rejected the obvious cognate of energy and dense activity for a slow, still rumination on possible ideas and meanings underneath the surface. Full of beautiful sounds, and expertly played, it held the attention and stimulated the imagination. The form itself, extended and sustained quiet music, followed by an equally quiet, and slow, repeated six note phrase, hinted at Webern’s more radical influence.

That is the story still to come, the enormous effect that Webern had on both John Cage and Morton Feldman and thus the music that has followed them, as with the current Wandelweiser movement. In one of those amazing coincidences in history, Cage and Feldman met at a New York Philharmonic concert in 1950, when both left after hearing Webern’s Symphony, Op. 21. More than his technique, it was Webern’s aesthetic of quiet, spaciousness, and gentle beauty, that set both men on their mature path—a path that one expects Trinity Wall Street to follow next season.

Wed, September 13, 2017

Time’s Arrow Festival hits the mark with launch of Webern odyssey
New York Classical Review

The composer Anton Webern once responded to public incomprehension of his music by saying his tunes would someday be sung in the street.

That day may not quite have arrived, but Tuesday afternoon twenty of his songs resounded through St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan to enthusiastic applause from an audience consisting of tipped-off Webernites and surprised tourists on a day-after-September 11 pilgrimage to the area.

The free afternoon concert, in which Webern’s songs alternated with poetic chansons by the early Renaissance masters whom the composer considered his nearest predecessors, launched a two-year traversal of Webern’s complete works by Trinity Church’s new-and-old music festival, Time’s Arrow [Julian Wachner, Director of Music and the Arts].

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Time’s Arrow Festival hits the mark with launch of Webern odyssey

Wed Sep 13, 2017 at 12:20 pm
By David Wright

The Time’s Arrow Festival kicked off its Anton Webern series Tuesday afternoon at Trinity Church.

The composer Anton Webern once responded to public incomprehension of his music by saying his tunes would someday be sung in the street.

That day may not quite have arrived, but Tuesday afternoon twenty of his songs resounded through St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan to enthusiastic applause from an audience consisting of tipped-off Webernites and surprised tourists on a day-after-September 11 pilgrimage to the area.

The free afternoon concert, in which Webern’s songs alternated with poetic chansons by the early Renaissance masters whom the composer considered his nearest predecessors, launched a two-year traversal of Webern’s complete works by Trinity Church’s new-and-old music festival, Time’s Arrow.

The concentration and brevity of Webern’s compositions can make them seem like a blip on a program of lengthier pieces, a somewhat bitter apéritif to the Tchaikovsky main course. But performed in larger doses with the commitment and assurance shown by Tuesday’s young-skewing group of artists, they impressed mightily with their inventive intensity and force of expression.

Furthermore, the selection of songs—from the five songs of Webern’s Op. 3 to the three of Op. 25, his earliest and latest acknowledged works in the genre—showed the evolution of his style from suavely Romantic epigrams to a fiery texture of sudden leaps and juxtapositions.

Four singers performed five Webern song sets, bringing spontaneous, natural phrasing to all of the composer’s varied styles, even the most furious and disjunct. Pianist Steven Beck was on board the whole way, wrapping Op. 4 in Schumann-like mellow tone and sharply etching the sudden contrasts of Op. 25.

Compared to Webern’s tiny, polished gems, the delicate lute songs of Johannes Ockeghem, Heinrich Isaac, and Ludwig Senfl—themselves a reaction against more complicated and grandiose music of the time—sounded downright long-winded as they backed up and repeated texts, with richly extended melismas on single syllables.

The chapel’s reverberant space picked up all the voices and bounced them back, putting the singers almost in dialogue with themselves. An unfortunate effect of this voice-swelling reverb was the drowning out of Arash Noori’s artful lute playing, which was heard to best advantage in two solo pieces by Isaac, La morra and La battaglia. Noori’s fine ear for singing line and tone colors no doubt enhanced the vocal performances as well.

The vocal standard remained high throughout the recital. Mezzo-soprano Melissa Attebury brought robust tone and expressive surge to the Five Songs from “Der siebente Ring,” Op. 3. Attebury and Beck successfully navigated the set’s uniformly moderate tempos and hazy texts by Stefan George, which challenge singer and pianist to find and bring out the telling detail.

Returning later in the Three Songs (Gesänge) from “Viae inviae” by Hildegard Jone, Op. 23, Attebury brought focused tone and unforced agility to the capricious, leaping vocal line.

Billed as a tenor on the program page and as a countertenor in his program biography, Ryland Angel sounded like a bit of both, floating seamlessly in and out of a delicate falsetto in his sensitive phrasing of Ockeghem’s melancholy tribute to his late master Binchois (“Mort tu as navré”) and Senfl’s glowing tribute to music (“Lust hab ich g’habt”).

Although tenor Steven Caldicott Wilson gave focused tone and a touch of vocal heft to Webern’s Five Songs on Poems by Stefan George, Op. 4, his discreet delivery pointed up the connection to the preceding Renaissance items. Again confronted with uniform tempos and Webern’s avoidance of obvious text-painting, Wilson and pianist Beck dug successfully for musical gold in the nuances.

Soprano Molly Netter colored the smooth, chant-like vocal lines of Isaac’s “Quis dabit capiti” and Ockeghem’s “Ave Maria” with expressive inflections and subtle shifts of vocal placement.

Following this Renaissance turn, Netter stuck around for Webern’s Four Songs, Op. 12. Setting four poets of different eras and nationalities, the composer seemed to cut loose a little, with contrasting moods and even some outright text-painting here and there, all duly noted by Netter and Beck.

Netter was back yet again in the penultimate segment, joining tenor Angel in two duets by Senfl. The first was the only comic number on the program, a charmer titled “Ich weiß nit (was er ihr verhieß),” or, I Don’t Know (What He Promised Her), delivered with many a smile and a nod, in case one missed the abundant double-entendres.

Angel introduced “Ach Elslein” as “Senfl’s most famous tune,” and hearing him and Netter each croon a stanza and join together on the last, it wasn’t hard to imagine this wistful ballad as the “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” of the sixteenth century.

For the last item, Webern’s Three Songs to Poems by Hildegard Jone, Op. 25, the vocal cast seemed to call up reinforcements in the person of soprano Sarah Brailey. While one had sensed the other singers singing with power in reserve, Brailey drew liberally on her reserves to hit the dramatic highs and lows of Webern’s most starkly contrasted writing. Like her colleagues on this program, she could also neatly turn a phrase and find the expressive thread in Webern’s most disjunct vocal lines.

It made a brilliant finish to a program that left one, would you believe it, wishing for still more Webern.

Fri, September 8, 2017

The New Season of Classical Music: Listings for the Fall Season and Beyond
The New York Times

Flexing its muscles in both modern and early music, Trinity Wall Street [Julian Wachner, Director of Music and the Arts] opens its season with this annual festival, formerly held in early January. The focus this year and next is the complete works of the great Austrian miniaturist Anton Webern, juxtaposed with composers both long before and after him.

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The New Season of Classical Music: Listings for the Fall Season and Beyond

By ZACHARY WOOLFE

SEPT. 8, 2017

September

Dates are subject to change.

TIME’S ARROW Flexing its muscles in both modern and early music, Trinity Wall Street opens its season with this annual festival, formerly held in early January. The focus this year and next is the complete works of the great Austrian miniaturist Anton Webern, juxtaposed with composers both long before and after him. Sept. 12-14; trinitywallstreet.org.

MATANA ROBERTS Ms. Roberts, a saxophonist and conceptual artist, has called some of her works “patchwork sound quilts,” which bring together autobiography, folklore, spoken and sung texts and visuals. Her latest piece, “breathe … ,” to be unveiled at Roulette in Brooklyn, explores the militarization of the police. Sept. 14; roulette.org.

O17 Starting this year, the ambitious Opera Philadelphia is concentrating its offerings in this season-opening festival, which sprawls across that city and includes three premieres: “Elizabeth Cree” (created by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell), “We Shall Not Be Moved” (Daniel Bernard Roumain, Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Bill T. Jones) and “The Wake World” (David Hertzberg). The company will also present an acclaimed silent-film-inspired “The Magic Flute” and “War Stories,” a Monteverdi mash-up. (And looking forward, February brings a new production of George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s “Written on Skin.”) Sept. 14-25; operaphila.org.

JAAP VAN ZWEDEN It is another year before this exacting Dutch maestro becomes the New York Philharmonic’s music director. But he has a strong presence this season, leading the opening-night gala and first subscription program, which features Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and Philip Glass’s Concerto for Two Pianos. In February, he pairs the first act of Wagner’s “Die Walküre” (starring Heidi Melton and Simon O’Neill) with the New York premiere of John Luther Adams’s “Dark Waves,” and two weeks later conducts Prokofiev and Brahms before leading the orchestra on an Asian tour. Season opens Sept. 19; nyphil.org.

OLIVIER PY The artistic director of the Avignon Festival in France, this outspoken artist has a seductive alter ego in the seen-it-all chanteuse Miss Knife. For “Les Premiers Adieux de Miss Knife,” she will be joined in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s intimate BAM Fisher space by a four-piece jazz band and the special guests Joey Arias (Sept. 20), Angélique Kidjo (Sept. 21), Ute Lemper (Sept. 22) and Jo Lampert (Sept. 23). bam.org.

‘BLANK OUT’ A new chamber work by Michel van der Aa, known for experimenting with technology on the opera stage, demands that the soprano Miah Persson, singing live at the Park Avenue Armory, interact with a co-star, Roderick Williams, who is present only in a 3-D film. (One of Mr. van der Aa’s previous live-film amalgams, “Sunken Garden,” comes to the Dallas Opera in March.) Opens Sept. 21; armoryonpark.org.

‘CRAZY GIRL CRAZY’ For Barbara Hannigan’s first album as both singer and conductor, she has planned a characteristically daring program of women on the verge: Berg’s “Lulu” Suite, Berio’s “Sequenza III” and a new arrangement of music from Gershwin’s “Girl Crazy.” (She also sings Salvatore Sciarrino’s “La nuova Euridice secondo Rilke” with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia at Carnegie Hall in October, and in November gives a two-night American recital debut at the Park Avenue Armory, devoting one program to the Second Viennese School and the other to Erik Satie, with Reinbert de Leeuw on piano.) Sept. 22; Alpha Classics.

SCIARRINO PIANO CONCERTO In addition to writing a piece for Barbara Hannigan, Mr. Sciarrino — the master of anxious near-silence — is the latest of the five composers from whom the pianist Jonathan Biss has commissioned concertos based on Beethoven’s. Mr. Biss will play the piece first with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (alongside Beethoven’s Fourth), and then, at the end of November, with the Cleveland Orchestra. Sept. 22-23, thespco.org.

NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Gianandrea Noseda’s first season as the music director of this talented but chronically underachieving ensemble begins with a program of Bernstein and includes, in March, John Adams’s “The Gospel According to the Other Mary” and Verdi’s Requiem. Sept. 24, kennedy-center.org/nso.

‘NORMA’ The star soprano Anna Netrebko was originally supposed to take on the formidable title role of a Druid priestess torn between love and duty in this Bellini masterpiece, a one-time showcase for Callas and Ponselle. But she decided it wasn’t for her, leaving Sondra Radvanovsky — a chicory-dark and fluent, if blunt, Norma at the Metropolitan Opera four years ago — to open the company’s season, alongside Joyce DiDonato and Joseph Calleja. Carlo Rizzi, a journeyman who led the premiere of the disastrous former “Norma” production in 2001, conducts; David McVicar, the Met’s go-to for efficient realism, directs. (Angela Meade and Jamie Barton, exciting partners in this opera, sing five performances in December.) Opens Sept. 25; metopera.org.

‘VEXATIONS’ Satie’s instruction atop the score for this short piano piece — play it 840 times — may well have been a joke at the expense of the esotericism-obsessed Salon de la Rose + Croix in late-1890s Paris. “Complete” performances are, understandably, rare. But on the occasion of “Mystical Symbolism,” its exhibition about the salon, the Guggenheim Museum will field a host of pianists in the whole marathon, all 19-odd hours of it. Sept. 26; guggenheim.org.

‘FOR/WITH’ Organized by the vital trumpeter Nate Wooley, an artist of rare integrity and artistic ambition, this two-night mini-festival at Issue Project Room focuses on four composers — Christian Wolff, Ashley Fure, Michael Pisaro and Annea Lockwood — from whom he has commissioned works. Sept. 29-30; issueprojectroom.org.

THE STONE AT THE NEW SCHOOL The Stone, a tiny but influential East Village performance space founded by John Zorn, announced earlier this year that it would move into a permanent residence at the New School in Greenwich Village next March. Until then, concerts each Friday and Saturday at the school will give a taste of what is coming, including this twofer with the stylish guitarist Mary Halvorson. Sept. 29-30; thestonenyc.com.

MARYANNE AMACHER Specializing in haunting, fleeting acoustic experiments that sprawled through multiple rooms, this composer left little behind when she died in 2009. But there have been recent attempts to revive her work, including this performance of “Adjacencies,” for two percussionists (here from the group Yarn/Wire) and electronics, at the Kitchen. (Yarn/Wire returns there on Oct. 6 with the kaleidoscopically detailed music of Enno Poppe.) Sept. 29-30; thekitchen.org.

October

SABINE DEVIEILHE Increasingly prominent in Europe, this dramatically acute coloratura soprano makes her North American recital debut with a program of French songs in the ornate environs of the Board of Officers Room at the Park Avenue Armory. Oct. 1, 3; armoryonpark.org.

‘CROSSING’ Based on the war diaries of Walt Whitman, this somber chamber opera by Matthew Aucoin was acclaimed at its premiere in 2015. It arrives at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Diane Paulus’s production; Rod Gilfry stars as Whitman. (“Orphic Moments,” a double bill of Mr. Aucoin’s “The Orphic Moment” and Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice,” will be revived by MasterVoices in May.) Opens Oct. 3; bam.org.

PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA This burnished ensemble from down I-95 has become practically a house band at Carnegie Hall in recent years under its vibrant music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. It opens Carnegie’s season with lovable standards by Gershwin and Bernstein, then returns for three more dates, in December, March and April, including new works by Tod Machover and Michel van der Aa and a freshly expanded suite from Thomas Adès’s opera “Powder Her Face.” Bernstein is a recurring strand, too, with “Serenade (After Plato’s ‘Symposium’)” and the “Chichester Psalms.” Oct. 4; carnegiehall.org.

L’ARPEGGIATA Christina Pluhar’s ensemble plays early music with the offhand vitality of contemporary indie rock. It devotes one program at Zankel Hall to Luigi Rossi, and the next to a mélange of Cavalli, Cesti, Monteverdi and Italian folk tunes. Oct. 6-7; carnegiehall.org.

‘THE FORCE OF THINGS’ Music theater as immersive installation: This “opera for objects,” by the important young composer Ashley Fure (collaborating with her brother, the architect Adam Fure), makes sounds through unexpected connections, in a kind of vibrating stillness. Its American premiere, with the International Contemporary Ensemble, comes courtesy of the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University in New Jersey, devoted this season to works by women. Oct. 6-8; peakperfs.org.

‘RÉPONS’ A sweeping, complex amalgam of the acoustic and electronic, with the audience both surrounding and surrounded by sound, this Pierre Boulez work from the early 1980s strains the resources of traditional performance spaces. But it may well be perfect for the soaring Drill Hall at the Park Avenue Armory, where Boulez’s own Ensemble intercontemporain will play it twice at each of two performances, allowing listeners to hear the 45-minute piece from different perspectives. Oct. 6-7; armoryonpark.org.

MUSIC HALL OF CINCINNATI Everyone agrees that America’s concert halls, many built during eras of explosive interest in classical music, are now too large to fill consistently. But is there the money and the will to fix them? Cincinnati has found a way: The imposing Music Hall (from 1878), home to the meatily authentic Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, closed for a year and reduced its capacity to around 2,400 from 3,400. It reopens, those seats (it is hoped) full, with works by Scriabin, Beethoven, John Adams and Jonathan Bailey Holland. Oct. 6-7; cincinnatisymphony.org.

NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA This underrated ensemble fields a particularly fine roster of piano soloists this season, opening with Jeremy Denk (and Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto) and also including Conrad Tao, Stephen Hough, George Li, Terrence Wilson, Sara Daneshpour and Robert Levin. Oct. 7-8; njsymphony.org.

PATRICIA KOPATCHINSKAJA AND JAY CAMPBELL This violinist and cellist come together in the snug Board of Officers Room at the Park Avenue Armory for a wide range of works — from early music to a premiere by Michael Hersch — that will test their shared taste for extremity. (Ms. Kopatchinskaja, a creative curator as well as an intense player, will get a more vast canvas for her talents next June as the music director of the 2018 Ojai Festival in California.) Oct. 9-10; armoryonpark.org.

‘CDMX’ FESTIVAL Boldly declaring irrelevant old distinctions between high and low art, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s immersion in the music of today’s Mexico City includes commissions from Gabriela Ortiz and Arturo Márquez; an evening of brand-new chamber works conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto; the Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel performing with Natalia Lafourcade and Café Tacvba; film music, including a screening of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Birdman,” with live accompaniment; and organilleros (organ grinders) deployed through Walt Disney Concert Hall. Oct. 9-17; laphil.com.

AMERICAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Leon Botstein’s ensemble goes where others fear to tread, devoting this season at Carnegie Hall to rarely heard music with a relationship to politics. “The Sounds of Democracy” features works by Roger Sessions, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. (“Triumph of Art” follows in December; “Hollow Victory: Jews in Soviet Russia After the World War,” in January; and, in March, a performance of Luigi Nono’s anti-fascist opera, “Intolleranza.”) Oct. 11; americansymphony.org.

LEIF OVE ANDSNES A thoughtful virtuoso, this pianist opens his season-long residency with the New York Philharmonic with Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Concerto. Later he plays Britten’s Concerto and Debussy’s “Fantaisie,” as well as a recital at David Geffen Hall. Oct. 12-17; nyphil.org.

SPHINX ORGANIZATION Devoted to promoting racial diversity in classical music through competitions, grants and educational activities, this invaluable entity also presents an annual concert at Carnegie Hall featuring its flagship orchestra, the Sphinx Virtuosi; this year it includes pieces old (Vivaldi, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams) and new (the New York premiere of a Jimmy López work for violin, cello and strings). Oct. 13; sphinxmusic.org.

NEW YORK EARLY MUSIC CELEBRATION Focused this year on Holland and Flanders, this citywide festival includes respected ensembles like the Sebastians and Pomerium. The schedule also features a presentation from the treasured series Music Before 1800 (“The Musical World of Hieronymus Bosch,” with Capella Pratensis) and, at the Morgan Library & Museum, Camerata Trajectina’s “Music From the Age of Vermeer.” Oct. 13-22; nyemc.com.

‘IL GRILLO DEL FOCOLARE’ Teatro Grattacielo, devoted to the revival of little-known Italian operas, turns to this tender 1908 adaptation of Charles Dickens’s sentimental story “The Cricket on the Hearth.” It made the career of Riccardo Zandonai, today (a bit) better known for “Francesca da Rimini.” Oct. 14; grattacielo.org.

PEOPLES’ SYMPHONY CONCERTS This venerable series — one of the best deals in classical music — presents world-class performers for less than $10 a ticket. The season begins with the pianist Shai Wosner and also includes the cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan; the pianists Vladimir Feltsman, Kirill Gerstein and Lise de la Salle; the Rosamunde, Dover and Juilliard quartets; the clarinetist Jörg Widmann with the pianist Gilles Vonsattel; and, in Ives sonatas, the violinist Stefan Jackiw and the pianist Jeremy Denk. Oct. 14; pscny.org.

MONTEVERDI TRIO The opportunity to hear Monteverdi’s three pathbreaking extant operas — “L’Orfeo,” “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria” and “L’Incoronazione di Poppea” — is rare enough, let alone all under the artful baton of John Eliot Gardiner, who founded his Monteverdi Choir in the 1960s and will open Lincoln Center’s annual White Light Festival at Alice Tully Hall. (In December, the brilliant vocal ensemble Tenet performs selections from Monteverdi’s “Selva morale e spirituale.”) Oct. 18, 19, 21; whitelightfestival.org.

WHITE LIGHT FESTIVAL With a perennially vague focus on spirituality and faith, Lincoln Center’s fall festival rightly has as its centerpiece, “The Psalms Experience,” performances of settings (some new, some old) of all 150 biblical psalms, by 150 composers. White Light also presents the Emerson String Quartet, Meredith Monk (with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City), the organist Bernard Foccroulle, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Radio Choir, Jordi Savall and, performing Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus,” the pianist Steven Osborne. Oct. 18-Nov. 15; whitelightfestival.org.

JACK QUARTET For “Soundscape America,” a two-night celebration of the 20th- and 21st-century American string quartet at the Miller Theater, this endlessly curious group ranges from Ruth Crawford Seeger to Cenk Ergun, by way of Erin Gee, Anthony Braxton, Elliott Carter, Morton Feldman, John Zorn, Gloria Coates and more. (The JACK also joins So Percussion at Zankel Hall in March for an evening of premieres by Philip Glass, Donnacha Dennehy and Dan Trueman.) Oct. 19, 21; millertheater.com.

ÉLIANE RADIGUE This French composer, who combined her skills at synthesizer composition and her Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practice into hypnotic music, began working with acoustic instruments about 15 years ago. For a performance at Issue Project Room, part of the Austrian Cultural Forum’s Moving Sounds Festival, two recent pieces will be heard alongside a classic recording of “Mila’s Song in the Rain.” Oct. 20; issueprojectroom.org.

ORCHESTRA DELL’ACCADEMIA NAZIONALE DI SANTA CECILIA Antonio Pappano, the conductor of this healthy-voiced ensemble, has lured the elusive pianist Martha Argerich to Carnegie Hall for Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3, part of a two-night stand that also includes works by Verdi, Respighi, Sciarrino and Mahler. (Mr. Pappano also makes a rare appearance with the New York Philharmonic in February with a keyboard fest: Britten’s Piano Concerto, with Leif Ove Andsnes, and Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony, with Kent Tritle.) Oct. 20-21; carnegiehall.org.

BERNSTEIN AT 100 If you think you’re hearing more “West Side Story” dances in concert halls than usual this season, you’re not crazy: It is part of the two-year celebration of the centennial of this quintessential figure of American music, born in August 1918. The New York Philharmonic’s “Bernstein’s Philharmonic” festival (Oct. 25-Nov. 14), including all his symphonies, is among many local and international tributes. leonardbernstein.com/at100.

‘THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL’ Thomas Adès conducts the Met premiere of his seething 2016 opera, based on the surreal Luis Buñuel film about an elegant dinner party whose guests find it — first oddly, then ominously — impossible to leave. Tom Cairns, who wrote the libretto, directs; the large ensemble cast includes Audrey Luna, Amanda Echalaz, Sally Matthews, Alice Coote, Iestyn Davies, Joseph Kaiser, Rod Gilfry and John Tomlinson. (On Oct. 15 at Zankel Hall, a few of the singers and Mr. Adès will perform songs by him and others.) Opens Oct. 26; metopera.org.

DANIIL TRIFONOV This dazzling pianist releases a Chopin album on Oct. 6, and that composer is a thread running through his Perspectives series this season at Carnegie Hall, which opens with “Hommage à Chopin,” a demonstration of the master’s influence. (He also performs his own concerto with the Mariinsky Orchestra; lieder with the baritone Matthias Goerne; piano duos with Sergei Babayan; more Chopin with Kremerata Baltica; and, in May, “Decades,” a solo program featuring a work from each decade of the 20th century, from Berg to Adès.) Oct. 28; carnegiehall.org.

November

MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN As technically accomplished as any pianist, Mr. Hamelin doesn’t rest on those laurels. He delves deeply into dusty corners of the repertory, and emerges, in this recital at Carnegie Hall, with rarities by Samuil Feinberg and Leopold Godowsky, alongside works by Liszt and the first book of Debussy’s “Images.” Nov. 1; carnegiehall.org.

92ND STREET Y Yet more choice pianists are the prime attractions next season at the Y, including Angela Hewitt, who continues her four-season survey of Bach’s complete keyboard works on Nov. 8. Benjamin Grosvenor, the 24-year-old British dynamo, will make his Y debut a week later, with works by Bach and Brahms, and Shai Wosner will play Schubert’s six final sonatas in three concerts. Nikolai Lugansky, Jeremy Denk, Alessio Bax and Inon Barnatan also appear. 92y.org.

‘THE MOTHER OF US ALL’ Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s quirkily heart-rending pageant-opera about Susan B. Anthony and the struggle for women’s suffrage will be staged by the searching young director R. B. Schlather in a site-specific production at the 19th-century Hudson Hall in Hudson, N.Y. (Schlather completists will want to check out his staging of a new piece, “Film Stills,” based on Cindy Sherman’s photographs, in the spring at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, alongside a new opera by Anna Clyne based on Eva Hesse’s diaries.) Opens Nov. 11; hudsonhall.org.

‘WAR OF THE WORLDS’ “Fake news” isn’t new: In 1939, Orson Welles co-opted the form of the radio news bulletin for a panic-sowing adaptation of H. G. Wells’s novel about an alien invasion. Bringing it into the 21st century, the composer Annie Gosfield, whose work has often been inspired by old transmissions, collaborates with the director Yuval Sharon, who plans to involve both the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s audience at Walt Disney Concert Hall and unsuspecting listeners in the streets; Christopher Rountree conducts the LA Phil New Music Group. Nov. 12, 18; laphil.com.

PAUL LEWIS Eloquent and restrained, this British pianist has provided some of New York’s most memorable concerts in recent years, with late sonatas of Schubert and Beethoven. He returns, to Zankel Hall, with more late Beethoven (the Opus 126 Bagatelles) as well as Brahms’s “Klavierstücke” (Op. 118) and two Haydn sonatas. (In April, he joins a frequent collaborator, the moving tenor Mark Padmore, at Alice Tully Hall for songs of Brahms and Schumann.) Nov. 15; carnegiehall.org.

COMPOSER PORTRAITS Miller Theater’s signature series of dives into one artist’s work at a time begins with the reactive music of Marcos Balter, with evenings of Chen Yi, Raphaël Cendo, Ann Cleare, Christopher Cerrone and Frederic Rzewski to follow. Nov. 16; millertheater.com.

CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER The New York premiere of John Luther Adams’s “… there is no one, not even the wind” is part of this concert of ensemble music focusing on the flute, a highlight of the society’s season at Alice Tully Hall, full of fine performers and staid programs. Nov. 19; chambermusicsociety.org.

‘GIRLS OF THE GOLDEN WEST’ The most eagerly anticipated new opera of the season, drawn from texts by the Forty-Niners of the California Gold Rush — particularly women — opens, appropriately, at San Francisco Opera, bringing together two longtime collaborators, the composer John Adams and the librettist and director Peter Sellars. Grant Gershon conducts a cast that includes Julia Bullock, Davóne Tines and J’Nai Bridges. Opens Nov. 21; sfopera.com.

VERDI REQUIEM Something of a lemonade-out-of-lemons situation: This year the Met canceled, for what it said were cost reasons, a planned new production of Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” by the daring director Calixto Bieito. Taking its place are these four performances of the composer’s crushing choral work, conducted by James Levine and featuring a fine quartet of soloists in Krassimira Stoyanova, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Aleksandrs Antonenko and Ferruccio Furlanetto. Opens Nov. 24; metopera.org.

TALEA ENSEMBLE At the Italian Academy at Columbia University, this fearless ensemble takes on “Face,” a new evening-length work by the savage composer Pierluigi Billone that closely intertwines a vocalist (here, the soprano Anna Clare Hauf) with instrumentalists in a sound world that can be rough, even violent. Nov. 30; taleaensemble.org.

‘THE NUBIAN WORD FOR FLOWERS’ As a tribute to the composer Pauline Oliveros, who died last year, Experiments in Opera and the International Contemporary Ensemble present the premiere, at Roulette in Brooklyn, of her music-theater collaboration with her spouse, the writer and performance artist known as Ione. Called a “phantom opera” by its creators, the work is a kind of meditation on colonialism, loosely based on the story of Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, a brutal British Army commander in Africa; Ione directs. Nov. 30; roulette.org.

December

ALEXI KENNEY This gifted young violinist plays with a precision and purity of tone that are ideally suited to Bach. He comes to Weill Recital Hall with a program that includes the Partita No. 3 and works by Schubert, Respighi, George Crumb and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Dec. 1; carnegiehall.org.

JANINE JANSEN A few days later, another superb violinist arrives at Carnegie to start a Perspectives series: This one begins with two programs of chamber music, featuring the clarinetist Martin Frost and the cellist Torleif Thedeen. A concert with the pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Dover Quartet follows in January, as do concertos with expert orchestras: the Royal Concertgebouw (Bruch’s First) and Philadelphia (the New York premiere of a work by Michel van der Aa). Dec. 7, 9; carnegiehall.org.

‘MESSIAH’ Every December brings a wave of performances of this Handel favorite, and many (even the singalongs) have their charms. But those in the know seek out one in particular: Trinity Wall Street’s, led by Julian Wachner at Trinity Church with a sure sense of drama, and soloists drawn from its riveting chorus. Dec. 15-17; trinitywallstreet.org.

JAMIE BARTON Though her generous voice easily cuts through a Wagner orchestra, this mezzo-soprano can rein it in, too, as a potent recitalist. A new work by Iain Bell shares the program, at Zankel Hall, with pieces by Haydn, Ravel, Debussy, Schoenberg, Strauss and Libby Larsen. Dec. 18; carnegiehall.org.

‘TOSCA’ The Met’s much-anticipated new production of this Puccini classic lost its star tenor (Jonas Kaufmann) and its married soprano and conductor (Kristine Opolais and Andris Nelsons) to a variety of personal issues. An effort to replace a grim 2009 Luc Bondy staging that never caught on with audiences, it now fields Sonya Yoncheva and Vittorio Grigolo — dynamic singers, both new to their roles — and James Levine, returning to the work he conducted in his first Met outing, in 1971. David McVicar directs, on naturalistic sets that look more or less the same as the Franco Zeffirelli ones that were stalwarts for decades. (Ms. Yoncheva and Mr. Levine then collaborate on Verdi’s “Luisa Miller,” opening on March 29 and also starring Plácido Domingo and the classy tenor Piotr Beczala, who has a solo recital at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 28.) Opens Dec. 31; metopera.org.

January

PROTOTYPE: OPERA/THEATER/NOW Now in its sixth year, this festival of contemporary chamber opera and performance has become New York’s most dependable home for intriguing music theater. Presented by Beth Morrison Projects and Here Arts Center, this season’s offerings, a mixture of full productions, song cycles and works in progress, include Michael Gordon and Deborah Artman’s “Acquanetta”; “The Echo Drift,” a collaboration among Mikael Karlsson, Elle Kunnos de Voss and Kathryn Walat; and Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce’s “Fellow Travelers,” much praised at its premiere in Cincinnati last year. Jan. 9-20; prototypefestival.org.

ROOMFUL OF TEETH This vocal ensemble, specializing in a grab bag mixture of exotic approaches, comes to Zankel Hall for the premiere of a work by (and performed with) the jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan, as well as a new piece by Ambrose Akinmusire, and “Partita,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary classic by Caroline Shaw, one of the group’s members. (The Teeth join the New York Philharmonic in May, under Semyon Bychkov, for a rare revival of Berio’s teeming “Sinfonia,” which he wrote for that orchestra in the late 1960s.) Jan. 11; roomfulofteeth.org.

BUDAPEST FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA Don’t be fooled by the sleepy repertory (standards by Bach, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff) in this program at David Geffen Hall. There are always tricks up the conductor Ivan Fischer’s sleeve, be they rearranging the sections of this crack ensemble or embedding a chorus in an innocent audience. Jan. 14; lcgreatperformers.org.

FOCUS! FESTIVAL The director of the New Juilliard Ensemble, Joel Sachs, acts more generally as the Juilliard School’s new-music magus and organizes this annual dive into slivers of the contemporary landscape. This year’s theme is “China Today: A Festival of Chinese Composition.” Jan. 19-26; juilliard.edu.

CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA Celebrating its centennial in 2018, this peerlessly refined ensemble — perhaps America’s best — arrives at Carnegie Hall under Franz Welser-Möst for a pair of programs that include a broad span of music, from Haydn’s oratorio “The Seasons” to a new work by Johannes Maria Staud, by way of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. No flashy concertos here: The orchestra is the star. Jan. 23-24; carnegiehall.org.

‘HERE BE SIRENS’ Kate Soper’s funny, poignant music-theater work, a dazzling exploration and explosion of myth, finds room to include, as Steve Smith wrote in The New York Times, “stark chant, Baroque extravagance, modernist dissonance and pop-tune directness in collision and collusion.” National Sawdust hosts the premiere of its newest iteration. Jan. 28; nationalsawdust.org.

February

‘PARSIFAL’ Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a major presence in New York this season with his Philadelphia Orchestra, also has an extended residency at the Met, where he will be the next music director. First comes this meditative Wagner opera, in François Girard’s evocative production, with a stellar cast that includes Klaus Florian Vogt, Evelyn Herlitzius, Peter Mattei and René Pape. (Strauss’s raw “Elektra,” staged with restraint by Patrice Chéreau, follows on March 1, and boasts Christine Goerke, Elza van den Heever and Michaela Schuster.) Opens Feb. 5; metopera.org.

PHILIP GLASS Carnegie Hall celebrates this prolific artist, who holds its Debs Composer’s Chair this season, with a series of concerts. Most intimate may be a selection of Glass songs, arranged by Nico Muhly and performed by him and some close collaborators. Other programs feature the Philip Glass Ensemble (“Music With Changing Parts”), the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (“Days and Nights in Rocinha” and the Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra) and the Pacific Symphony (“The Passion of Ramakrishna”). Feb. 8; carnegiehall.org.

CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Over the past few years, Riccardo Muti has shaped an ensemble both powerful and lyrical. He brings it to Carnegie Hall in works by Stravinsky, Britten, Chausson (the “Poème de l’Amour et de la Mer,” with the juicy mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine), Verdi and Brahms, and new pieces by Jennifer Higdon (a concerto for low-brass quartet) and Samuel Adams. Feb. 9-10; carnegiehall.org.

‘SEMIRAMIDE’ Not revived at the Met since 1993, this grand Rossini opera returns with Angela Meade, who sang the title role at the Caramoor Festival a few years ago, alongside Elizabeth DeShong, the essential tenor Javier Camarena, Ildar Abdrazakov and Ryan Speedo Green; Maurizio Benini conducts. Opens Feb. 19; metopera.org.

ST. PAUL’S CHAPEL ORGAN The installation of a Noack pipe organ, rescued from a church in Boston and renovated, is a belated present for the 250th birthday, celebrated last season, of Trinity Wall Street’s intimate chapel. A week of concerts will put the instrument through its paces, as will a springtime Pipes at One series on Friday afternoons. Feb. 19-25; trinitywallstreet.org.

ANNA CATERINA ANTONACCI From a singer of exhilarating intensity, a characteristically sophisticated program of Nadia Boulanger, Respighi, Britten, Poulenc and Debussy for this recital with the pianist Donald Sulzen at Zankel Hall, presented by New York City Opera. Feb. 20; nycopera.com.

VIENNA PHILHARMONIC Gustavo Dudamel, a frequent partner of this storied orchestra, hews mostly to Vienna favorites — Brahms, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, even Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” — in these three concerts at Carnegie Hall. But he has one wild card, too: Ives’s Symphony No. 2, not new to these players but a rarity for them. Just imagine the warm urgency those strings will find in this music, and the joy of hearing bits of “Turkey in the Straw” from the Viennese. Feb. 23-25; carnegiehall.org.

MITSUKO UCHIDA The queen of pianistic subtlety delves into Schubert with a pair of Carnegie recitals devoted to his sonatas — three each night. Feb. 26, March 2; carnegiehall.org.

March

SIMON KEENLYSIDE After a long stretch of health-related cancellations, this energetic baritone has been returning to opera — and to recital, too: This program at Alice Tully Hall, with the pianist Malcolm Martineau, includes Sibelius, Schubert and Poulenc, with a set of songs from his native Britain by Vaughan Williams, Arthur Somervell, Peter Warlock and Percy Grainger. March 1; lcgreatperformers.org.

ANDREW NORMAN A composer whose turbulent works echo the way we live now — technological overdrive and political strife — will have two West Coast showcases: The first American performances of his children’s opera, “A Trip to the Moon,” come to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and a new cello concerto, for Johannes Moser and the Seattle Symphony, follows in June. March 2-3; laphil.com.

‘COSÌ FAN TUTTE’ The Met’s last production of this Mozart opera, a study of love and betrayal, was merely decorative; this new one, directed by Phelim McDermott and conducted by David Robertson, sets the action in the seedy carnival that was Coney Island in the 1950s. Amanda Majeski, Serena Malfi, Ben Bliss and Adam Plachetka are the young lovers, with Christopher Maltman and the Broadway star Kelli O’Hara (game in the Met’s “The Merry Widow” a few years ago) setting the plot in motion. Opens March 15; metopera.org.

JENNIFER KOH One of our most probing artists, and a keen collaborator, presents “Limitless: On Stage Together,” two programs at National Sawdust of works commissioned by (and some performed in duo with) an enviable slate of composers: Zosha di Castri, Missy Mazzoli, Qasim Naqvi, Lu Wang, Lisa Bielawa, Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorey, Nina Young and Du Yun. March 15, 31; nationalsawdust.org.

ALARM WILL SOUND An intriguing notion: This intrepid ensemble says that this program at Zankel Hall, a journey through the dramatic life and work of Gyorgy Ligeti, will blend music and recorded sounds into “a concert that resembles a live podcast.” March 16; carnegiehall.org.

‘RINALDO’ Harry Bicket, leading the latest installment in what has happily become an annual series of Handel operas in concert at Carnegie Hall with his English Concert ensemble, fields a superb cast in this exquisite score: Iestyn Davies, Jane Archibald, Joélle Harvey, Luca Pisaroni, Sasha Cooke and Jakub Józef Orliński. March 25; carnegiehall.org.

BAVARIAN STATE ORCHESTRA New York will get to take the measure of Kirill Petrenko, the next conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, when he brings this ensemble, the exceptional house band of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, to Carnegie Hall. Sure, go to the first night for Brahms’s Double Concerto (with Julia Fischer and Daniel Müller-Schott) and Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” Symphony. But don’t miss the next: a concert performance of Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier,” starring Adrianne Pieczonka, Angela Brower, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller and Peter Rose. March 28-29; carnegiehall.org.

‘BECOME DESERT’ John Luther Adams’s patiently surging “Become Ocean,” from 2013, was both beautiful and ominous, a grandly eerie glimpse at our ecological future. It won a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award, and spurred a $50,000 donation from Taylor Swift to the orchestra that commissioned it, the Seattle Symphony. That ensemble and its music director, Ludovic Morlot, now present the sequel. March 29, 31; seattlesymphony.org.

April

AMERICAN COMPOSERS ORCHESTRA This crucial contemporary-music ensemble’s 40th-anniversary season includes “Dreamscapes,” a concert at Zankel Hall that features the premiere of “Concerto to Scale,” by and for the outstanding jazz pianist Ethan Iverson; and Steve Lehman’s “Ten Threshold Studies,” alongside works by Clarice Assad, T J Anderson and Hitomi Oba. April 6; americancomposers.org.

SHIFT: FESTIVAL OF AMERICAN ORCHESTRAS After a successful inaugural run, this showcase for ensembles thinking outside the box — modeled on the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall a few years ago — returns to the Kennedy Center in Washington. This time the featured orchestras, presenting both concerts and community events, will be the Fort Worth, Albany and Indianapolis symphonies, as well as Washington’s own National Symphony Orchestra. April 9-15; washingtonperformingarts.org.

BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA After he canceled on the Met’s new “Tosca,” it became clear that Jonas Kaufmann’s opera engagements in New York might well be attenuated in coming years by family obligations. That ups the ante on his appearance with this pristine ensemble at Carnegie Hall in the lovelorn second act of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” a work he has not yet sung onstage, with the soprano Camilla Nylund and the conductor Andris Nelsons. The Bostonians and Mr. Nelsons play Bernstein, Shostakovich, Mozart, Strauss and Jörg Widmann in their other two programs at Carnegie (where Mr. Kaufmann will have appeared in recital in January). April 11-13; carnegiehall.org.

‘CENDRILLON’ Massenet’s plush take on the Cinderella fairy tale has long been a star vehicle for the silky-voiced mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. She brings the work to the Met for the first time in Laurent Pelly’s charming, much-traveled production, with Bertrand de Billy conducting and a cast that also includes Alice Coote, Kathleen Kim and Stephanie Blythe. (A far rarer “Cendrillon” will have already hit the city in December, when the Manhattan School of Music gives what may be the American premiere of Nicolas Isouard’s 1810 version.) Opens April 12; metopera.org.

‘HIPPOLYTE ET ARICIE’ The vast resources of the Juilliard School’s historical-performance program have had a transformative effect on the early-music scene in New York. The school’s Juilliard415 ensemble collaborates with singers and dancers from the school in this Rameau opera, one of the French Baroque masterpieces heard too rarely here. Stephen Stubbs conducts; Stephen Wadsworth directs. April 17, 19, 21; juilliard.edu.

JULIA BULLOCK A deeply communicative singer in a range of styles, this young soprano unites classic lieder and a set of jazz and blues songs at Weill Recital Hall, joined by the pianist John Arida. April 20; carnegiehall.org.

LAWRENCE BROWNLEE This tenor, who spins out bel canto lines with controlled eloquence (and has a cameo as the Italian Tenor when the Bavarian State Orchestra performs “Der Rosenkavalier” in March), takes the night off from opera for a recital at Zankel Hall with the pianist Myra Huang, featuring a new work by Tyshawn Sorey and Schumann’s “Dichterliebe.” April 24; carnegiehall.org.

LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC Those who can’t make it out to California for this ensemble’s sensational season at Walt Disney Concert Hall will have to settle for this pair of programs at David Geffen Hall, led by Gustavo Dudamel and featuring a new work by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Edgard Varèse’s “Amériques,” Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” and two symphonies: Shostakovich’s Fifth and Beethoven’s Ninth. April 27, 29; lcgreatperformers.org.

May

GERALD FINLEY An artist of palpable intelligence and feeling, this baritone has been memorable at the Met in recent years as Stravinsky’s Nick Shadow and Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, and adds Athanaël in Massenet’s “Thaïs,” alongside Ailyn Pérez, in November. For a recital at Alice Tully Hall with the sensitive pianist Julius Drake, he ties a set of folk songs to a program of Beethoven, Schubert, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. May 2; lcgreatperformers.org.

LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA A few months after the Cleveland Orchestra brings Mahler’s Ninth Symphony to New York, this extroverted ensemble repeats it at David Geffen Hall under Simon Rattle, alongside its composer’s two other final masterpieces: “Das Lied von der Erde” (with Christian Gerhaher and Stuart Skelton) and the completed version of the Symphony No. 10. May 4, 6, 7; lcgreatperformers.org.

SOL GABETTA A cellist of style and focus, Ms. Gabetta appears at Alice Tully Hall with the pianist Bertrand Chamayou in a program of sonatas by Beethoven, Britten and Chopin. May 12; lcgreatperformers.org.

CHIARA STRING QUARTET Disbanding after 18 years so that its members can pursue their own projects, this adventurous group will play the New York premiere of a new piano quintet (with the pianist Paul Barnes) by Philip Glass at its last performance in the city. The program, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also includes works by Beethoven and Nico Muhly. May 12; metmuseum.org.

YUJA WANG Fiery and clever, this pianist had not yet announced her Carnegie Hall recital program when these listings went to press. But no matter the repertory, even if she’s not always successful, she’s always interesting. May 17; carnegiehall.org.

MET ORCHESTRA Returning for its customary post-opera-season stand at Carnegie Hall, this ensemble, buffed by James Levine over decades, will be led by Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla (in Debussy, Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky); Gianandrea Noseda (Mozart and Mahler); and Mr. Levine (Mozart, Mahler and the premiere of Charles Wuorinen’s “Eros and Nemesis”). May 18, 30, June 5; carnegiehall.org.

FREIBURG BAROQUE ORCHESTRA One of Europe’s finest early-music ensembles arrives at Alice Tully Hall with its new director, the excellent, understated keyboardist Kristian Bezuidenhout, who will lead two Mozart concerts from the fortepiano, as well as symphonies by Haydn and Johann Christian Bach. May 19; lcgreatperformers.org.

‘BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN’ New York City Opera commissioned this Wuorinen opera more than a decade ago, but the company went bankrupt and closed before it could give the premiere. (The opera ended up opening in 2014 in Madrid.) The revived City Opera will now finally present the thornily noble piece at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, as the culmination of a season that also includes Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West”; a mariachi opera, José Martinez’s “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna”; and Montemezzi’s “L’Amore dei Tre Re.” Opens May 31; nycopera.com.

Fri, September 1, 2017

The Gemlike Music of Webern
BestTours.com

“This is a song for you alone”: such is the invitational opening line of the first of five songs set to Stefan George poems (Op. 3) by Anton Webern (1883-1945). It’s one of thirty-one works in which the Austrian composer distilled his musical inheritance—an odd combination of post-Wagnerian Romanticism and medieval polyphony—into a bracing new style of crystalline compression that exerted a towering influence over modern composition after the Second World War. That influence has since waned, but this is no deterrent to the conductor Julian Wachner, whose annual “Time’s Arrow” festival, at Trinity Church Wall Street, is mounting a two-season traversal of Webern’s complete works. It begins with three days of concerts (Sept. 12-14) featuring the superb Choir of Trinity Wall Street and its associated new-music ensemble, NOVUS NY.

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The Gemlike Music of Webern 

“This is a song for you alone”: such is the invitational opening line of the first of five songs set to Stefan George poems (Op. 3) by Anton Webern (1883-1945). It’s one of thirty-one works in which the Austrian composer distilled his musical inheritance—an odd combination of post-Wagnerian Romanticism and medieval polyphony—into a bracing new style of crystalline compression that exerted a towering influence over modern composition after the Second World War. That influence has since waned, but this is no deterrent to the conductor Julian Wachner, whose annual “Time’s Arrow” festival, at Trinity Church Wall Street, is mounting a two-season traversal of Webern’s complete works. It begins with three days of concerts (Sept. 12-14) featuring the superb Choir of Trinity Wall Street and its associated new-music ensemble, NOVUS NY.

If the idea of Webern’s “complete works” sounds daunting, it’s not a matter of duration: even those who know little of Webern’s compositions are aware that most of them are extremely short, haikulike in their gnomic concentration. It is, rather, in the style of the music that the gauntlet is thrown down, for both performers and audience. The melodic lines are jagged and disjunct, the language is proudly atonal, and the textures can take canonic counterpoint to a fetishistic extreme. The series of small-scale vocal works (Opp. 12-18) in which Webern gradually adapted the strict system of twelve-tone technique that he virtually co-invented with his revered teacher, Arnold Schoenberg—all of which are included in Wachner’s first batch of concerts—reach a dizzying height of abstraction. These gleaming compositions fulfill the high-modernist beau ideal; they exist for themselves alone.

And yet there are many pieces that, within their rigorous confines, yearn for intimacy. Gestures of gentleness and warmth keep breaking into works like the First Cantata, with texts by the poet Hildegard Jone, who shared with Webern, an alpine enthusiast, an intense love for nature at its most pure; carefully chosen timbres of strings and percussion with solo brass and woodwinds caress as often as they collide. The Symphony has an Apollonian benevolence worthy of Satie; the Concerto for Nine Instruments and the Variations for Orchestra have drama and excitement to spare. Wachner’s concerts, which also feature works by such Webern-loving kindred spirits as Sebastian Currier and Sofia Gubaidulina, will be difficult to ignore. 

Thu, August 31, 2017

REV. 23 premiere: new opera from Julian Wachner & Cerise Jacobs, the sequel to Revelations
In Tune

On September 29, a new opera from Cerise Jacobs and Julian Wachner, Rev. 23, premieres at Boston’s John Hancock Theater. The premiere kicks off the Boston New Music Festival and features White Snake Projects production company, who shares new, relevant opera based on the stories of Cerise Jacobs. Rev. 23 will be available soon from E.C. Schirmer.

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REV. 23 premiere: new opera from Julian Wachner & Cerise Jacobs, the sequel to Revelations

AUGUST 31, 2017

On September 29, a new opera from Cerise Jacobs and Julian Wachner, Rev. 23, premieres at Boston’s John Hancock Theater. The premiere kicks off the Boston New Music Festivaland features White Snake Projects production company, who shares new, relevant opera based on the stories of Cerise Jacobs. Rev. 23 will be available soon from E. C. Schirmer.

Plot
Rev. 23 is the sequel to the Book of Revelations. It is told from the perspective of St. John the Divine and “transcribed” by Cerise Lim Jacobs. The opera narrates the last battle to recapture Paradise-on-Earth and restore the balance of good and evil to our world. Persephone, the only being able to pass freely between Hell and Earth, is recruited by Lucifer in the fight against the rulers of Paradise-on-Earth. No one is exempt from this battle. The opera transcends the Biblical narrative, and pulls characters from mythology and Chinese history.

Librettist/Creator
Cerise Lim Jacobs has earned a place as one of the most creative and imaginative thinkers of our time. Born in Singapore, Jacobs eventually moved to Massachussetts where she worked as a trial partner at one of New England’s largest law firms, practicing law for more than two decades. Three years into her retirement, a song cycle written for her husband turned into her first, full-length opera Madame White Snake. The music by Zhou Long won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.

Jacobs writes, “I dreamed up REV. 23 one day as I was thinking of where I would meet my husband Charles again since he passed from this world. It amused me that my incorrigible, irascible and impossible husband wouldn’t be caught dead (pardon the pun) in Paradise (not that he’d be entirely welcome there) as some of the most interesting people seem to be consigned to that other place. This led to more musing about what Heaven was like and concomitantly, what that other place was like.

I was aided in these musings by the fact that I was a Singaporean Methodist, a product of an American Methodist Missionary school and deeply steeped in biblical lore. So I turned, naturally, to the most detailed account of Paradise-on-Earth familiar to me, the divine visions of John of Patmos, author of the Book of Revelation.

Poring over the Book of Revelation over and over again (it’s a very short book), I couldn’t shake away the sense of unease that grew stronger with each read, that perhaps I wouldn’t be perfectly happy in a place of perfect happiness. As I began to explore why I felt uneasy, the framework for Rev. 23, the final chapter of the Book of Revelation, began to take shape.”

Composer

Julian Wachner, Grammy-nominated composer, is one of North America’s most exciting and versatile musicians, sought after as composer, conductor, educator and keyboard artist. He is currently Director of Music and Arts at Trinity Wall Street and Music Director of the Grammy award winning Washington Chorus.

With over 80 works in his catalog, Wachner’s music has been variously described as “jazzy, energetic, and ingenious” (Boston Globe), having “splendor, dignity, outstanding tone combinations, sophisticated chromatic exploration…a rich backdrop, wavering between a glimmer and a tingle…” (La Scena Musicale), being “a compendium of surprises” (Washington Post), and as “bold and atmospheric”, having “an imaginative flair for allusive text setting” and noted for “the silken complexities of his harmonies” (New York Times.) The American Record Guide noted that “Wachner is both an unapologetic modernist and an open-minded eclectic – his music has something to say.” In 2010, He made New York City Opera history when he was selected as both conductor and composer at the company’s annual VOX festival of contemporary opera leading to the invitation to be the sole conductor of this Festival in 2012.

Thu, August 31, 2017

Classical Notes: A New Recording of “Threni” and Ted Hearne’s “Sound from the Bench”
The New Yorker

But “Threni” benefits from Herreweghe’s heightened sense of beauty, magnifying the way Stravinsky used his idiosyncratic twelve-tone technique—shaped by the work of two deceased contemporaries, Schoenberg and Webern—to insert daubs of ravishing tonal harmony (chanted intermittently by the chorus, in the letters of the Hebrew alphabet) within a larger canvas of dissonant counterpoint (the prophet’s yearning words of condemnation and forgiveness), emerging like flowers from cracks in a concrete surface. The piece will never join the general repertory, but it will never go away. Julian Wachner’s committed live performance of the piece with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, in 2013, proved that it can always impress an audience.

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Culture Desk

Classical Notes: A New Recording of “Threni” and Ted Hearne’s “Sound from the Bench”

By Russell Platt

August 31, 2017

On “Sound from the Bench,” Ted Hearne, a composer with a passion for social justice, offers fierce and timely pieces.

When Igor Stravinsky wrote “Threni,” a musical setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah for chorus, orchestra, and vocal soloists, in 1957-58, the United States was a confident place: abundantly prosperous at home while holding the line against Communism abroad. Los Angeles, where the composer was living, would have been a secure base from which to explore ancient truths—Judeo-Christian religiosity, the mysteries of Renaissance counterpoint—and to throw them as a lance into the future. Something of this serenity can be sensed in a new recording (on the PHI label) of “Threni,” along with the composer’s “Requiem Canticles” and two smaller sacred works, by the Collegium Vocale Gent and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic; they are led by Philippe Herreweghe, a veteran conductor who largely made his name by conducting the kind of music that Stravinsky, in this late stage of his career, was drawing deeply from.

When conducting music of the modern era, Herreweghe’s signature style is still intact. He does on the podium what Khnopff or van Rysselberghe did with the easel: in the manner of a good Belgian Symbolist painter, he clarifies intricate textures while bathing them in a luminous sheen. Those who know the original recording, on Columbia, of “Threni,” made by some expert and very hardworking musicians under Stravinsky’s not always elegant baton, will be amazed by the sheer beauty of this new album; those who love Oliver Knussen’s recording of “Requiem Canticles,” on Deutsche Grammophon, might miss Knussen’s keen balancing of contrasting timbres and his more urgent sense of drama. But “Threni” benefits from Herreweghe’s heightened sense of beauty, magnifying the way Stravinsky used his idiosyncratic twelve-tone technique—shaped by the work of two deceased contemporaries, Schoenberg and Webern—to insert daubs of ravishing tonal harmony (chanted intermittently by the chorus, in the letters of the Hebrew alphabet) within a larger canvas of dissonant counterpoint (the prophet’s yearning words of condemnation and forgiveness), emerging like flowers from cracks in a concrete surface. The piece will never join the general repertory, but it will never go away. Julian Wachner’s committed live performance of the piece with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, in 2013, proved that it can always impress an audience.

Today, Ted Hearne, one of the brightest compositional talents of the millennial generation, makes his home in Los Angeles, where he teaches at the University of Southern California. Hearne can write postmodern instrumental works to an international standard, but he has made his reputation with music involving voices—most notably “Katrina Ballads,” a blues-and-rock-drenched oratorio that made blunt yet brilliant use of texts from news reports and interviews documenting the George W. Bush Administration’s shambolic bungling of the humanitarian crisis that came with the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, in 2005.

Hearne is at one with his American generation’s passion for social justice, a movement which—aside from the eternal vigilance of the black church—no longer seems to need religion for its fire or foundation. But choral music, over the centuries, has been a primarily religious idiom, and Hearne’s pieces burn with an ecclesiastical fervor. “Sound from the Bench”—which gives Hearne’s new album, on Cantaloupe, its title—and the other works collected here deal with several manifestations of modern oppression: economic, sexual, corporate (the travesty of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision), and military (a lethal incident of confusion in the Iraq War, laid out in a text gleaned from a WikiLeaks release).

Hearne’s music, like that of most of his contemporaries, leaves the complexity of counterpoint, in which Stravinsky revelled, behind, but the chanting simultaneities of Hearne’s writing are enriched by clashes of style and texture. These qualities are enhanced by Hearne’s unerring performers, the superb Philadelphia choir the Crossing, directed by Donald Nally. In “Consent,” words taken from Catholic and Jewish wedding ceremonies are mixed with fragments of Hearne’s own love letters, and text messages (written by high-school students) that were used as evidence in the Steubenville rape trial; in a movement from “Sound from the Bench,” the disk’s most ambitious work, soaring lines of choral ecstasy coexist with a klaxon-like electric guitar. (In another movement, Hearne saucily summons the presence of an L.A. goddess, Joni Mitchell.) In each case, Hearne’s varied harmonies, propulsive drive, and savvy timing carry the day. The album’s final selection, “Privilege,” has its stodgy spaces: Hearne is not always his own best librettist. But the work’s powerful finale, “We Cannot Leave,” its words taken from a Xhosa anti-apartheid song, melts away in a heartrending cloud of softly dissonant tones. From the timeless echoes of injustice, Hearne has forged a fierce and timely grace.

Mon, August 28, 2017

Fall Classical-Music Preview
The New Yorker

The crystalline music of Anton Webern, the most controversial of the three great composers of the Second Viennese School, is often ignored. Leave it to the adventurous conductor Julian Wachner to take up the cause, leading the musical forces of Trinity Church Wall Street in the first phase (Sept. 12-14) of a two-season retrospective of Webern’s complete works. Wachner’s superb Choir of Trinity Wall Street plays an important role in “The Psalms Experience,” a sequence of twelve concerts (Nov. 2-11), presented by Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, which highlights the spiritual expressions of composers from the medieval era to the present day.

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Fall Classical-Music Preview
Centenary celebrations for Leonard Bernstein, and the White Light Festival, which highlights the spiritual expressions of composers.

By Russell Platt

In a fall season bustling with innovation, musical titans of the past cast looming shadows. Most familiar to New Yorkers will be that of Leonard Bernstein, for whom centenary celebrations will begin this year. During Bernstein’s lifetime, the sheer force of his powers as a conductor, an educator, and a media personality outshone his music, but, as time passes, it is his music we treasure most. Carnegie Hall’s opening-night concert (Oct. 4), an evening with the Philadelphia Orchestra and its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, features the Symphonic Suite from the film “On the Waterfront” and the Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story.” Lenny’s old band, the New York Philharmonic, will go deeper, offering a survey of Bernstein’s three symphonies in a trio of programs (Oct. 25-Nov. 14) conducted by Alan Gilbert and Leonard Slatkin. Even the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center takes part, presenting the composer’s uninhibited late song cycle “Arias and Barcarolles” (Oct. 29).

The crystalline music of Anton Webern, the most controversial of the three great composers of the Second Viennese School, is often ignored. Leave it to the adventurous conductor Julian Wachner to take up the cause, leading the musical forces of Trinity Church Wall Street in the first phase (Sept. 12-14) of a two-season retrospective of Webern’s complete works. Wachner’s superb Choir of Trinity Wall Street plays an important role in “The Psalms Experience,” a sequence of twelve concerts (Nov. 2-11), presented by Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, which highlights the spiritual expressions of composers from the medieval era to the present day. But the reigning deity of White Light will be Claudio Monteverdi, whose three extant operas will be presented, in matchless style, by the conductor John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists (Oct. 18-21).

The Metropolitan Opera’s opening-night production will be a new staging (by David McVicar) of Bellini’s “Norma,” featuring two of the company’s power divas, Sondra Radvanovsky and Joyce DiDonato (Sept. 25-Dec. 16). But the Met will also innovate, presenting the American première of Thomas Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel,” a work based on the 1962 film by Luis Buñuel (Oct. 26-Nov. 21). New York City Opera strikes a similar balance, opening its season with Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West” (Sept. 6-12) but also presenting chamber operas by Tobias Picker and Dominick Argento. bam, as ever, champions the new: its fall season includes the New York première of the composer-conductor Matthew Aucoin’s opera about Walt Whitman, “Crossing” (Oct. 3-8), and “Road Trip,” a burst of fresh material from the composers of Bang on a Can which celebrates the collective’s thirtieth anniversary (Oct. 27-28). 

Thu, August 24, 2017

Critic’s Choice for the 2017-18 season
New York Classical Review

Trinity Wall Street’s music director Julian Wachner has a notably ambitious season planned, and it begins with this three-day, six-concert exploration of Anton Webern, his music and its antecedents and descendants. This year (nine concerts will follow in 2018) presents much of Webern’s vocal music, and instrumental works that include the Five Pieces for Orchestra Op. 10, and the Op. 30 Variations. Intriguing context will come via Ockeghem, Tallis, Stockhausen, Sebastian Currier, Kati Agócs, and others old and new.

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Critic’s Choice for the 2017-18 season

Thu Aug 24, 2017 at 11:23 am
By George Grella and Eric C. Simpson

Time’s Arrow festival. September 12-14 at Trinity Wall Street.

Trinity Wall Street’s music director Julian Wachner has a notably ambitious season planned, and it begins with this three-day, six-concert exploration of Anton Webern, his music and its antecedents and descendants. This year (nine concerts will follow in 2018) presents much of Webern’s vocal music, and instrumental works that include the Five Pieces for Orchestra Op. 10, and the Op. 30 Variations. Intriguing context will come via Ockeghem, Tallis, Stockhausen, Sebastian Currier, Kati Agócs, and others old and new. trinitywallstreet.org (GG)

Pierre Boulez’ Répons. October 6-7 at the Park Avenue Armory.

One of Boulez’ most creatively adventurous compositions, Répons can be heard on recordings, and occasionally in halls, but only rarely as it was designed and created–in a multi-dimensional aural space. The Park Avenue Armory is the ideal venue for spatial music, and these performances will realize the composer’s vision, with the audience surrounding Ensemble Intercontemporain and conductor Matthias Pintscher. armoryonpark.org (GG)

“Monteverdi: The Birth of Opera.” October 18-21 at Lincoln Center.

For all practical purposes, Claudio Monteverdi is the first opera composer and among the greatest, though productions of his works are frustratingly infrequent. Into that gap comes John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists, and the Monteverdi Choir, who will deliver semi-staged performances of Orfeo, The Return of Ulysses, and The Coronation of Poppea. This is to celebrate the composer’s 450th anniversary, and appears to be the first such event in New York since BAM’s “Full Monte” in 2002—a true must-see series. lincolncenter.org (GG)

JACK Quartet: Soundscape America. October 19 & 21 at Miller Theatre.

A great American string quartet playing great American String Quartets. Across these two nights JACK has curated a program of classic old and new pieces, many difficult to hear in concert or even find on recordings. There will be John Zorn’s thrilling Necronomicon and music from the last few years by Cenk Ergün, Natacha Diels, and others. There will also be Carter’s String Quartet No. 2, Feldman’s Structures, and (if one can pick only one of the concerts) String Quartet No. 8 from the important Gloria Coates and Ruth Crawford Seeger’s extraordinary String Quartet, both on the 21st. millertheatre.com (GG)

Wagner’s Parsifal. February 5-27, 2018 at the Metropolitan Opera.

Parsifal as an opera needs little introduction: Wagner’s last opera is arguably the greatest example of his ideal of Gestamtkunstwerk, the complete work of art; through its combination of text, theater, and sublime music it keeps audiences in its spell for six timeless hours.

The Metropolitan Opera in February will revive the acclaimed François Girard production that premiered in 2013, with a strong cast that features Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role, Peter Mattei as Amfortas, Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry, Evgeny Nikitin as Klingsor, and René Pape as Gurnemanz. The company’s music director elect, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, will lead the epic work, following up on his well-received Wagnerian debut in Der Fliegende Holländer last season. metopera.org (ES)

Matthias Goerne and Daniil Trifonov. February 6 at Carnegie Hall.

A recital with either Matthias Goerne or Daniil Trifonov would be a major event: to get the two together is an embarrassment of riches. The pair will perform Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Brahms’s Four Last Songs, plus songs by Berg, Wolf, and Shostakovich. carnegiehall.org(ES)

“Schubert: Epic and Intimate.” February 16-June 8 at the 92nd Street Y.

Neither 220 years since his birth nor 190 years since his death seems like platinum anniversary, yet Schubert cycles and mini-festivals are popping up everywhere this season. That’s not a complaint: drink in as much of the master as you can. The 92nd Street Y gets in on the act this spring with a 5-concert series, “Schubert: Epic and Intimate,” featuring a Winterreise with Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake, three recitals of the late piano sonatas with Shai Wosner, and a program of part songs with New York Polyphony. 92y.org (ES)

Brahms trios with Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma. February 22 at Carnegie Hall. 

Brahms’s three piano trios are among the most treasured items in the chamber music repertoire, and they offer a sort-of snapshot of the composer’s career, written in 1854, 1880, and 1883, respectively (the wise master returned to the first in 1889 to for revisions). We hear in these three the ardor of young Brahms and the brilliant technique of the elder statesman. Presenting all three in concert this February will be three of today’s leading instrumentalists: Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma. carnegiehall.org (ES)

Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier performed by the Bayerische Staatsoper. March 29 at Carnegie Hall.

New York just had a new Rosenkavalier last year, in a stunning set of performances at the Met, and we’re about to get another. This spring, the Bavarian State Opera comes to Carnegie Hall for a concert performance of Strauss’s romantic masterpiece. Adrianne Pieczonka leads the cast as the Marschallin, with Angela Brower as Octavian, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller as Sophie, and Peter Rose as Baron Ochs. Kirill Petrenko conducts. carnegiehall.org (ES)

Daniil Trifonov. May 4 at Carnegie Hall.

Daniil Trifonov’s performing career already hints that he will take his place among the all-time great pianists. The main thing missing has been time in which to hear his thinking and playing across the large-scale repertoire. His Perspectives Series at Carnegie Hall will have him exploring new territory, most acutely in this concert where he will survey the 20th century with music from each decade, from Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op. 1, to Traces Overhead by Thomas Adès, with intriguing visits with Copland, Ligeti, Stockhausen, John Adams, and more. carnegiehall.org (GG)

Fri, August 18, 2017

Choral Featured Album: ‘The Hubble Cantata’
Minnesota Public Radio

For this week’s Choral Featured Album, we present “The Hubble Cantata.” Set against the backdrop of space, the cantata takes the listener on a journey through the cosmos and explores themes of life and loss. The collaborative work of composer Paola Prestini and librettist Royce Vavrek, the cantata is brought to life in this recording by over 100 performers from the Washington Chorus, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and the contemporary music ensemble Novus NY [directed by Julian Wachner].

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Choral Featured Album: 'The Hubble Cantata'

Classical Music FeaturesSeiji Cataldo · St. Paul, Minn. · Aug 18, 2017

Hear selections from new releases with our weekly Choral Featured Album every Friday at 11 a.m. central on the Choral Stream.

For this week's Choral Featured Album, we present "The Hubble Cantata." Set against the backdrop of space, the cantata takes the listener on a journey through the cosmos and explores themes of life and loss. The collaborative work of composer Paola Prestini and librettist Royce Vavrek, the cantata is brought to life in this recording by over 100 performers from the Washington Chorus, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and the contemporary music ensemble Novus NY.

Fri, August 18, 2017

America’s Quintessential Maverick Composer, at 100
The New York Times

When Trinity Wall Street [Julian Wachner, Director of Music and the Arts] presented a Harrison centennial concert in April featuring a chorus and percussion ensemble from Rutgers University performing “La Koro Sutro,” I was knocked out by the music’s sheer inventiveness: the allure of its component parts; the instrumental colorings; the intricate choral writing that shifts from stretches of elegiac melodic lines sung in unison to intense passages where choristers alternate phrases antiphonally.

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America’s Quintessential Maverick Composer, at 100

By ANTHONY TOMMASINIAUG. 18, 2017

Many of the musical and philosophical characteristics that defined Lou Harrison, who would have turned 100 this year, as a quintessential American maverick composer come through in “La Koro Sutro” (“The Heart Sutra”).

Harrison’s early fascination with Eastern spiritual thought and culture culminated in pieces like this 1971 choral work. The text is one of the most beloved Buddhist scriptures, describing the pathway to attaining nirvana.

He purposefully chose a version of the sutra that had been translated into Esperanto, a synthetic language created in the late 1880s in an attempt to facilitate universal communication. This ideal appealed deeply to Harrison, a pacifist with an embracing view of diverse cultures and a pioneer in the gay rights movement, who died in 2003.

“La Koro Sutro” is ambitious and large-scale, lasting nearly 30 minutes, yet somehow personal and modest, too, with a kind of innately American directness. The musical language is steeped in Asian elements, ancient modes, pentatonic scales, chantlike choral writing and systems of “just” (what Harrison considered the more natural) tuning, rather than the tempered intonation common to Western music for centuries.

The chorus is accompanied by what Harrison called an American gamelan, his attempt to replicate the Indonesian gamelan orchestra (the “most sensually beautiful musical ensemble on the planet,” as he described it) by assembling all manner of percussion instruments invented by him and William Colvig, his partner in life and work. During the early 1940s, when many American composers were exploring the latest developments of Modernism or writing in a Neo-Classical style, Harrison and his fellow maverick John Cage were presenting all-percussion concerts, often using instruments fashioned from materials they rescued from junkyards.

When Trinity Wall Street presented a Harrison centennial concert in April featuring a chorus and percussion ensemble from Rutgers University performing “La Koro Sutro,” I was knocked out by the music’s sheer inventiveness: the allure of its component parts; the instrumental colorings; the intricate choral writing that shifts from stretches of elegiac melodic lines sung in unison to intense passages where choristers alternate phrases antiphonally.

The technical command alone in the score reveals that this American maverick was also an American master. There are certainly positive aspects to the maverick label, which suggests a composer of flinty individuality unbound by protocols and conventions. Indeed, a comprehensive and engrossing new biography of Harrison by Bill Alves and Brett Campbell is subtitled “American Musical Maverick.”

Still, there’s a trace of condescension in relegating Harrison (along with Cage, Henry Cowell, Harry Partch and other iconoclasts) to the maverick category. The subtitle of a 1998 Harrison biography by Leta E. Miller and Fredric Lieberman, also excellent, better encapsulates the goals of his life and work: “Composing a World.”

The Trinity concert included Harrison’s mesmerizing Suite for Violin with American Gamelan (1974), another revelation. Then there was the unabashedly eclectic Concerto for Organ with Percussion Orchestra (1973). How can this exhilarating concerto not be played all the time? The organist sometimes uses a small wood bar to depress blocks of keys to produce punchy cluster chords, surrounded by bursts of chimes, gongs and mallet percussion. The slow second movement, a Siciliana in the form of a double canon, unfolds in skillfully written counterpoint. Yet the lines creep up and down and overlap with impish freedom.

Performing that concerto requires assembling a battery of percussion, including some exotic instruments, which may account for its rarity in performance. But what explains the neglect of, say, Harrison’s 1988 Grand Duo for violin and piano? This 35-minute suite is infused with the sound world of the gamelan, but scored traditionally (though the pianist also uses a padded bar for clusters). The aptly named Stampede movement races along like some combination of Asian dance and American hoedown.

A rhapsodic Air begins with an ominous piano solo, thickly chromatic and dissonant, roiled by heaving outbursts. Soon, the violin spins out a pensive, restless solo line that keeps taking surprise turns, yet somehow sounds inevitable.

The duo ends with a deceptively jaunty Polka, at once giddy and a little dangerous.

Harrison’s gravitation toward things Eastern started early. He grew up in a house in Portland, Ore., reflecting the taste of his mother and decorated with Japanese lanterns, Persian rugs and artifacts from Asia. He remembered Hawaiian music playing all the time on the radio, that “sliding, waving thing,” as he later described it to Mr. Campbell.

On moving to San Francisco in 1934, he took lessons with Cowell, who become a crucial mentor, and attended productions of Chinese opera. He also worked as accompanist to dancer-choreographers including Bonnie Bird and Lester Horton, often using percussion instruments. The Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939 proved a revelation: It was his first time hearing gamelan music live, an ensemble from Bali.

In 1943, he studied with Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles. Seeking lessons from this imposing composer, who had devised the 12-tone technique, might have seemed a mismatch. But Harrison was fascinated by 12-tone music, with its systematic ordering of all 12 notes of the chromatic scale into tone rows. The “Air” from “Rapunzel,” Harrison’s 1952 opera in six short scenes, intriguingly blends Cowell-like clusters with jagged Schoenbergian writing for voice. Performed in 1954 by the young Leontyne Price at a contemporary music conference in Rome, the piece won a 20th-century masterpiece award, conferred by Stravinsky.

After working with Schoenberg, Harrison followed Horton and his dance troupe to New York. He was soon tapped by Virgil Thomson, the influential music critic of The New York Herald Tribune, to join a roster of fellow composer-reviewers, including (briefly) Cage. (Thomson simply thought composers knew the most about music.) Harrison was initially wary, since he had a spotty knowledge of the standard repertory. To Thomson, this was an advantage that would give Harrison’s takes on core works some freshness. And he admired Harrison’s deep knowledge of non-Western music.

It was from attending concerts as a critic that Harrison really learned the classical repertory. “I was terribly happy,” he said, “when I could review [Beethoven’s] ‘Waldstein’ Sonata as though I’d heard it more than once.”

Harrison’s vivid reviews hold up well today. Artur Schnabel’s serene approach to the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor suggested, to Harrison, “a classically cultured Chinese gentleman” sitting down “to convey to those attentive a few choicely turned phrases of counsel and reflection.” In a rave review, he described a new piano concerto by Alan Hovhaness as modern in its “elegant simplicity and adamant modal integrity,” adding that the brilliance and excitement of the piano part were “due entirely to vigor of idea.”

Harrison remained grateful for Thomson’s support during a period of mental instability. Once, in 1947, Harrison went to work feeling shaky. Thomson gave him a talking-to about guardian angels. There aren’t enough to go around, he said. So one of Harrison’s angels must be off caring for someone else. For now, Thomson said, “you must sit quietly” and not panic. Completely credulous, Harrison asked if there were some people without any guardian angels.

“Yes,” Thomson said emphatically, “but you are not one of them.” Harrison left, carried by thoughts of comforting angels. But in time he had a breakdown that required hospitalization.

This episode confirmed Harrison’s growing feeling that New York was not his place. He returned to California in 1953. In 1991, while working on a biography of Thomson, I went to interview Harrison at the home he shared with Colvig in Aptos, near Santa Cruz. Wall hangings and small statues from Asia and the Middle East were everywhere, along with shelves stuffed with books and stacks of scores. In one large room, Colvig, with help from Harrison, designed, built and maintained instruments.

Though he wasn’t prone to complaining, one sore spot for Harrison was the neglect over decades from his hometown orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony. This situation changed completely when Michael Tilson Thomas became the ensemble’s music director in 1995. The first piece on Mr. Thomas’s first program was a Harrison commission, “A Parade for MTT,” scored for the largest orchestra of any Harrison work, including six percussionists, Javanese gongs and the Davies Hall organ.

In its evocation of exuberant parades and bustling crowds, the piece paid homage to a hero of Harrison’s youth, Charles Ives. Harrison was a pivotal Ives advocate who conducted the premiere of the composer’s then-unknown Third Symphony in 1946, a score he had edited from manuscripts.

When Colvig died in 2000, after they spent 35 years together, Harrison built a dream house the couple had long contemplated, a winter retreat in the California desert, near Joshua Tree National Park. Today, the Harrison House provides a residency program for artists and thinkers — an ideal way to honor an all-embracing creator.

Mon, July 24, 2017

This Real World ‘Space Opera’ Lets You Become the Hubble Telescope
Gizmodo

Fistful of Stars is a five minute-long virtual reality experience that takes the viewer on a tour through the vast star-forming region known as the Orion Nebula. Its hauntingly beautiful images, accompanied by The Hubble Cantata—which includes a 30 piece ensemble, a 100 person choir, and two singers from the Metropolitan Opera [directed by Julian Wachner]—gives the film a 2001 feel without the murderous robots.

“It’s a combination of science and magical realism,” director Eliza McNitt told Gizmodo. “We wanted to give users the feeling as if they were a star floating on stellar winds through the Orion Nebula. That could take billions of years but we wanted to give you the experience of that spectacular journey through five minutes.”

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This Real World 'Space Opera' Lets You Become the Hubble Telescope

Rae Paoletta
7/24/17 4:30pm
Filed to: SPACE

It’s easy to feel small and insignificant in the grandiose scope of the universe, because we are. At the same time, as Carl Sagan once reminded us, we’re made of the same “star stuff” as the cosmos. All too often, we forget how random, ridiculous, and resplendent it is to part of the stellar sorority of the universe. That’s why art, specifically movies like Eliza McNitt’s Fistful of Stars, is important—it reacquaints us with humanity’s small and stupid and somehow very special place in the cosmos.

Fistful of Stars is a five minute-long virtual reality experience that takes the viewer on a tour through the vast star-forming region known as the Orion Nebula. Its hauntingly beautiful images, accompanied by The Hubble Cantata—which includes a 30 piece ensemble, a 100 person choir, and two singers from the Metropolitan Opera—gives the film a 2001 feel without the murderous robots.

“It’s a combination of science and magical realism,” director Eliza McNitt told Gizmodo. “We wanted to give users the feeling as if they were a star floating on stellar winds through the Orion Nebula. That could take billions of years but we wanted to give you the experience of that spectacular journey through five minutes.”

Humans have never ventured into the Orion Nebula, because it’s roughly 1,500 lightyears away. Peering into its cloudy heart, Hubble has found some of the most beautiful chaos of star birth ever captured. As its name suggests, Fistful of Stars masterfully captures the beauty within our otherwise bellicose universe. I still can’t decide whether the whole thing is a cause or cure for an existential crisis.

“The Orion Nebula is a place thousands of lightyears away where no human has ever been,” McNitt said. “Fistful of stars offers humans an experience...where you get to become the eyes of the human telescope.”

Though the film originally premiered back in March at SXSW, it’s finally available on Vice’s Samsung VR channel. If you don’t have VR gear, you can check still check it out without a headset right here, in 360 video.

Fri, July 21, 2017

Sacred Song Service to celebrate Christmas in July
The Chautauquan Daily

One of the anthems the Chautauqua Choir will perform is “The Snow Lay on the Ground,” arranged by Julian Wachner for the Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City, which Jacobsen said is one of the most experimental churches for music. He said the piece was “dazzling” and wanted to perform it because not many Chautauquans would hear it in their home churches.

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Sacred Song Service to celebrate Christmas in July

by DELANEY VAN WEY on JULY 21, 2017  

Don’t be alarmed by the sounds of Christmas carols coming from the Amphitheater on Sunday evening. Yes, it is still July.

But that won’t stop Chautauquans from celebrating the holiday they won’t be able to spend all together. At 8 p.m. Sunday in the Amp, the Chautauqua Choir and Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, will perform a Sacred Song Service program titled “Mary, Mother of God: Christmas in July.”

“Chautauquans love to sing Christmas carols because they’re not usually together at Christmas time,” Jacobsen said. “And there’s something extra special about singing Christmas carols when it’s like 85 degrees outside.”

Jacobsen said while he creates a Sacred Song Service program based on Christmas nearly every year, he tries to bring a new focus to it to keep it fresh. This season, he is concentrating on Mary, the mother of Jesus, who he said is featured in much more Christmas music than Joseph is.

The song that will set the theme for Sunday’s performance is “Annunciation Story” by Richard Dirksen, who wrote it for the Washington National Cathedral in 1975. It is the story of Mary learning of her pregnancy from an angel, which sets the stage for the rest of the Christmas narrative.

“The musical language is very spare,” Jacobsen said. “The focus is on the story.”

One of the anthems the Chautauqua Choir will perform is “The Snow Lay on the Ground,” arranged by Julian Wachner for the Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City, which Jacobsen said is one of the most experimental churches for music. He said the piece was “dazzling” and wanted to perform it because not many Chautauquans would hear it in their home churches.

Although Jacobsen noted that it is unclear if there was snow on the ground when Jesus was born, there definitely is plenty of it at Chautauqua during the winter season. While Jacobsen said he’s only been at Chautauqua during the holidays a few times, he tries to check in on the Bestor Plaza livestream at least once to see the snow twinkling in the light of the beautifully decorated trees on either side of the plaza.

“It really is like a fantasy-land Christmas,” Jacobsen said.

There will also be numerous carols for the congregation to perform, including “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which Jacobsen said is one of his favorites.

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