Remembering Jessye Norman | Playlist
The entire UMS family is deeply saddened to learn that Jessye Norman, legendary American soprano, five time Grammy Award winner, National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center Honors recipient, and University of Michigan alumna, who passed away on September 30, 2019 in New York at age 74.
We honor Norman’s 39-year performance history in Ann Arbor with a playlist of 10 signature recordings of works she performed with UMS, between her first appearance in 1973 with the Philadelphia Orchestra and her final Hill Auditorium recital in 2012.
Listen now on your preferred streaming service:
Renegade Series will shake up your mud months
Some renegades: 1. Einstein on the Beach and 2. Random Dance.
A friend from Minneapolis was visiting earlier this summer, and we got to talking about the dreaded “mud months” up here in the icy north—February, March, alas, even April. Our friend mentioned that she’d spent a week in Arizona last February, but when I said I envied her, she shook her head. “Actually,” she said, “I cut my trip short. I couldn’t wait to get back.”
“What made you do that?”
The cultural life, she said. “There’s no cultural life down there.”
With apologies to the Heard Museum and Ballet Arizona, I think she’s got a point. And I’ve promised myself that this year, no matter how bad it gets, I’m not going to complain when it’s mid-March and I’m shoveling snow for the third time in a week, because the cultural offerings in Ann Arbor more than compensate. (Of course nothing about winter seems bad right now, so long as there are no mosquitoes.)
I’m actually looking forward to the mud months of 2012, because that’s when UMS—in what’s either a brilliant move or a potentially ruinous gesture of faith in the weather gods—is presenting its Renegade series. For me it’s the most tantalizing thing on offer this season, and I’ll be tracking it here on the Lobby, hoping to answer some of the questions I’ve long had about the process of art and art-making, and what makes some artists true outposts of genius and others mere followers. The series starts in January with a reconstruction of the 1976 opera Einstein on the Beach and winds up in late March with the San Francisco Symphony’s “American Mavericks” series, and in between covers a wide and intriguing arc of genres and eras. Beethoven, Gesualdo, Robert Lepage, Jessye Norman, Meredith Monk, Robert Wilson, Philip Glass—they’re all part of it, and they’ll all be here, in spirit or person, as we hunker down under Michigan’s gray skies and count the days until the crocuses bloom.
Because he has as much to do with the evolution of this series as anyone on the planet, I’m starting my personal Renegade “journey” with UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka:
LS: What’s the genesis of the Renegade series?
MK: I’ve been having a conversation for 10 years about Einstein on the Beach. And I was also having a conversation with the San Francisco Symphony about a remount of their American Mavericks festival—the first one they did was 10 years ago, in San Francisco. Both of these conversations were long-term and ongoing. And there was a moment when I realized, “Huh! It appears that both of these projects are going to land in the same season.” And when I realized that, I started thinking about the commonalities.
The American Mavericks festival is really all about Michael Tilson Thomas’s vision for a certain kind of American sensibility and “mavericky-ness” when it comes to orchestral music composition—what it means to be American, and what it means to be an innovator and an experimenter. And how can that not in some way relate to Einstein on the Beach, which is, of course, an American work of music, theater, or opera that very much embodied those same ideas of risk-taking, innovation, scale, in creating something really new.
That, strangely enough, collided with another moment that I had last season, where I’m sitting there listening to Pierre Boulez talk about his life, his ruminations on the 20th century, and his role in that. And a student asked a really wonderful question about what the new electronically based media means for music and composition. And Boulez said, “Je ne suis pas un prophète.” “I’m not a prophet. ” And he started to expound on artistic works that are truly important, that are game-changers—works we could never, ever have possibly anticipated, and once we’ve experienced them, could never imagine living without. This was his definition for something that’s truly important.
And I guess it was that statement from such an important intellectual, about art and culture, and these two projects that were long-term conversations, coming together and forming the possibility of a thread of performances devoted to this idea of work that really has changed the direction of the form.
LS: I like the term “game-changers.”
MK: It also felt very zeitgeisty to me. That these things came together at a time when our popular discourse, and our popular political discourse, is just polluted with vocabulary about innovation. “Innovating our way out of the difficulties that we face today.” “Being a maverick.” “I’m the real maverick.” All of this bullsh!t that’s kind of like wallpaper, but there’s no real there there. And of course there are lots of examples of real mavericks, of people who are really innovating, but it also seems kind of … cheap. We’re cheapening the meaning of some of these ideas, of what it means to be a real change-agent.
LS: Why “renegade”?
MK: Ultimately we wanted to choose a word that hasn’t been overused, a word that maybe made people feel both a little bit curious and a little bit uncomfortable. I like the word, because it toggles between the artists, their artistic output, and the audience. What does it mean if you’re an audience member who chooses to go to these sorts of events? Are you a little bit of a renegade? Are you taking a risk? How do you feel about taking that risk, and what do you get out of taking that risk? As consumers of the arts—as listeners and observers—it is the moments when we take risks, or step into something that we have no idea what it is, and are completely bowled over and changed, that matter. Period.
LS: In an ideal world, what do you hope audiences might take away from this?
MK: In a dream world, I want the takeaway to be something really simple. I want people to leave the experience with some sense of that quality of innovation, or change-agency, or specialness, that defines the work as part of this series.
LS: You start with a bang—Einstein on the Beach—and end with another bang, the San Francisco Symphony’s Mavericks series. So how did you decide to flesh out the middle?
MK: How did I want to fill in that time between those two bookends (which is what we’re calling them)? The one thing that was really important to me was that it not focus only on work of the last 50 years. I didn’t want this to feel like a quote-unquote contemporary music series. I wanted to tell a much larger story about moments of extreme change. So I asked Peter Phillips of the Tallis Scholars to put together a Renaissance mavericks program. And we’ve included the Hagen String Quartet’s all-Beethoven concert as a wonderful way of creating an opportunity to understand how Beethoven really changed classical music aesthetics. That’s an obvious concert to include in a series like this. I think Beethoven’s the ultimate maverick.
LS: Beyond just having an interesting cultural experience, and coming away saying, “Wow, I was there for that,” does a series like this have the potential to change our culture by changing the audience? In the best of all possible worlds, how might this shake people up? What might they get from this that goes beyond just the bragging rights, and the curiosity factor?
MK: Obviously, if entering into an unexpected experience opens those kinds of ideas up in an audience member’s mind, that for me would be a very important, possibly transformative takeaway—because we’re reminded, ultimately, of the intrinsic value of the arts and not just the instrumental value of the arts. Now: is that any different from the experience I want people to have when they go to the all-Brahms program with the Chicago Symphony? Probably not.
LS: It does seem that when you’re packaging this as “renegade,” you’re focusing on the process of creating this art, rather than just, “Let’s go hear these great works that are part of the canon.” I mean, how did they get to be part of the canon in the first place?
LS: And what does that mean for us, and how and where we need to move our culture forward?
MK: That’s right. I think you’re right. I also think that accessing a lot of work really ultimately has everything to do with giving yourself permission. Einstein on the Beach, for example, is a five-plus hour work without an intermission …
* * *
In my next post: More from Michael Kondziolka on Einstein on the Beach.
What do you think? Do renegade works fill audiences with renegade spirit? Have you attended a ‘renegade’ work?
11/12 Choral Union Series
Within the signature Choral Union Series, UMS presents 10 concerts in historic Hill Auditorium:
Subscription packages go on sale to the general public on Monday, May 9, and will be available through Friday, September 17. Current subscribers will receive renewal packets in early May and may renew their series upon receipt of the packet. Tickets to individual events will go on sale to the general public on Monday, August 22 (via www.ums.org) and Wednesday, August 24 (in person and by phone). Not sure if you’re on our mailing list? Click here to update your mailing address to be sure you’ll receive a brochure.
John Malkovich in The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer
with The Vienna Academy Orchestra
and sopranos Valerie Vinzant and Louise Fribo
Martin Haselböck, conductor
Saturday, October 1, 8pm
John Malkovich makes his UMS debut as a dead serial killer who returns to the stage to present his autobiography in a public reading. Malkovich appears as part of a theatrical opera of sorts that features a 40-piece chamber orchestra and two sopranos telling the real-life story of Jack Unterweger, a convicted murderer and acclaimed prison poet who had been pardoned by the Austrian president Kurt Waldheim in 1990 at the behest of Viennese literati. This gripping performance uses arias and music by Gluck, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Boccherini, and Haydn as the counterpoint to Malkovich’s emotional monologue, which shifts between reality and delusion.
Yuja Wang, piano
Sunday, October 9, 4pm
Twenty-four-year-old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang is widely recognized for playing that combines the spontaneity and fearless imagination of youth with the discipline and precision of a mature artist. She made her UMS debut in January 2008, just months after graduating from the Curtis Institute of Music, and since then has spent each year criss-crossing the globe with a cavalcade of impressive debuts and awards, including the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, given to select musicians destined for bright solo careers.
Ravel | Miroirs
Copland | Piano Variations
Rachmaninoff | Selected Preludes
Brahms | Sonata No. 1 or No. 3
Apollo’s Fire with Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor
Jeannette Sorrell, music director
Thursday, November 3, 8pm
UMS is delighted to welcome French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky in his UMS debut for this performance with Apollo’s Fire, “one of the nation’s leading baroque orchestras.” (Boston Globe) Named for the classical god of music and the sun, Apollo’s Fire was founded in 1992 by the young harpsichordist and conductor Jeannette Sorrell, who envisioned an ensemble dedicated to the baroque ideal that music should evoke various passions in its listeners. Together they explore the full dramatic range of Handel and Vivaldi’s arias for the virtuoso castrato singers of the 18th century.
Handel | “Disperato il mar turbato” from Oreste
Handel | “Con l’ali di costanza” from Ariodante
Vivaldi | Concerto for Four Violins in b minor
Vivaldi | “Se in ogni guardo” from Orlando Finto Pazzo
Vivaldi | “Se mai senti spirati sul volto” from Catone in Utica
Vivaldi/Sorrell | La Folia (“Madness”)
Vivaldi | “Vedro con mio diletto” from Giustino
Vivaldi | “Nel profondo” from Orlando Furioso
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski, conductor
Janine Jansen, violin
Tuesday, December 6, 8pm
The London Philharmonic returns for its first appearance since November 2006, this time under the direction of the exciting young conductor Vladimir Jurowski, who became the orchestra’s principal conductor in 2007, succeeding Kurt Masur. Janine Jansen, a 23-year-old violinist who has been a huge star in her native Holland ever since her Concertgebouw debut at the age of 10, makes her UMS debut as violin soloist.
Pintscher | Towards Osiris (2005)
Mozart | Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 (1775)
Tchaikovsky | Manfred Symphony, Op. 58 (1885)
From the Canyon to the Stars
Hamburg State Symphony
Jeffrey Tate, conductor
Francesco Tristano, piano
Daniel Landau, filmmaker
Sunday, January 29, 4pm
In 1971, Alice Tully, a New York performer and philanthropist who contributed toward the construction of the chamber music hall in Lincoln Center that bears her name, commissioned the French composer Olivier Messiaen to write a piece commemorating America’s Bicentennial. Messiaen was inspired and fascinated by the natural wonder he found in the landscapes of the American West. Des canyons aux étoiles represents Messiaen’s sonic impressions of America’s last untouched frontier.
Messiaen | Des canyons aux étoiles
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti, conductor
Pinchas Zukerman, violin
Friday, March 9, 8pm
Riccardo Muti, the Chicago Symphony’s new music director, makes his first UMS appearance in 6 years, conducting an all-Brahms program. Violinist Pinchas Zukerman, recognized as a phenomenon for nearly four decades, returns to UMS for a performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto.
Brahms | Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Brahms | Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
Denis Matsuev, piano
Thursday, March 15, 8pm
Anyone who attended last season’s concert by the Mariinsky Orchestra came away talking about one thing: the astonishing piano soloist Denis Matsuev, whose extraordinary performance of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto had the audience buzzing in the lobby at intermission, immediately after the performance, and for weeks beyond the concert hall.
Tchaikovsky | Seasons, Op. 37a
Rachmaninoff | Prelude in g minor, Op. 23, No. 5
Rachmaninoff | Prelude in g-sharp minor, Op. 32, No. 12
Rachmaninoff | Étude-Tableaux, Op. 39, No. 6
Scriabin | Etude in c-sharp minor, Op. 2, No. 1
Scriabin | Etude in d-sharp minor, Op. 8, No. 12
Tchaikovsky | Dumka (Russian Rustic Scene), Op. 59
Stravinsky | Three Movements from Petrouchka
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Featuring: Emanuel Ax, piano
St. Lawrence String Quartet
Jessye Norman, soprano, Meredith Monk, vocals, and Joan La Barbara, vocals
Jeremy Denk, piano
Paul Jacobs, organ
Thursday, March 22 – Saturday, March 24
As part of its centennial season, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony will present its second American Mavericks Festival in March 2012, which will tour to only two venues in the US: Hill Auditorium and Carnegie Hall. The 2012 festival celebrates the creative pioneering spirit and the composers who created a new American musical voice for the 20th century and beyond. Choral Union Subscribers may choose two of the three concerts on the series.
Program 1 (Thurs 3/22, 7:30p)
Paul Jacobs, organ
Jeremy Denk, piano
Aaron Copland | Orchestral Variations (1930, orchestrated in 1957)
Henry Cowell | Piano Concerto (1928)
Mason Bates | Mass Transmission (2010)
Lou Harrison | Concerto for Organ with Percussion Orchestra
Program 2 (Fri 3/23, 8pm)
Jessye Norman, soprano
Meredith Monk, vocalist
Joan La Barbara, vocalist
St. Lawrence String Quartet
Henry Cowell | Synchrony
John Adams | Absolute Jest (2011)
John Cage | John Cage Songbooks (1970)
Edgard Varese | Amériques
Program 3 (Sat 3/24, 8pm)
Emanuel Ax, piano
Carl Ruggles | Sun-Treader
Morton Feldman | Piano and Orchestra (1975)
Ives | A Concord Symphony
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
Joshua Bell, director and violinist
Sunday, April 22, 4pm
Formed from a group of leading London musicians and working without a conductor, the Academy gave its first performance in its namesake church in November 1959. For their first UMS appearance in 11 years, the Academy brings their highly lauded sound to an exquisite all-Beethoven program. Superstar violinist Joshua Bell attacks the stunning Beethoven Concerto with his breathtaking virtuosity and sumptuous tone and leads the rest of the program from the concertmaster’s chair.
Beethoven | Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
Beethoven | Concerto for Violin in D Major, Op. 62
Beethoven | Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92