by Stephen Stubbs
Happy New Year from sunny South Africa! Maxine, Hannah, Julianna and I are enjoying a long-overdue family reunion with the added luxury of having a second summer in the midst of our own winter. Temperatures are normally in the 90’s here in the summer, but the past few days of 100 plus temperatures have made the swimming pool a welcome. We will travel from here directly to Bremen where Maxine and I will be recording Handel’s first (and absolutely brilliant) opera, Almira with the Boston Early Music Festival team before returning to Seattle.
Before we left, we ended the fall season of PMW with a program of Bach cantatas in Lynnwood, Mercer Island and Seattle at the newly restored St. Mark’s Cathedral. We were delighted that the window restoration was complete so that we didn’t have outside noise to contend with (as we unfortunately had for the Orfeo performance), but we also learned that even with the outside noise removed, the potentially magnificent acoustic of the Cathedral still has problems of “focusing” the sound forward to the audience area. After the performance we spoke with Michael Kleinschmidt (St. Mark’s Director of Music) and some of the St. Mark’s board members, who seem as committed as we are to solving this problem by the installation of an acoustical shell. This will undoubtedly be the long-term solution and we were gratified to find that St. Mark’s seems as committed to the project as we are. Meanwhile, the very next PMW concert there – the exciting project with star counter-tenor Reginald Mobley to survey Black voices in American music with a team of musicians quite like the one we had for “American Tune” a few seasons ago – will need an acoustical solution using electronic reinforcement (and particularly re-direction) of the sound. We are very lucky to be working with a team of musicians and acousticians in the form of the dynamic “Pokorny brothers”. All three brothers, Romaric, Corentin, and Emmeran, are extremely accomplished string players (violin and viola) who have performed in various configurations with PMW in recent seasons. But equally, they have created sound systems for us which have allowed (for instance) the open-air challenges of Virginia Wyman’s magnificent “Horses Yard” (where we do an annual summertime concert) to bring the music to the ears of our listeners in a way that seems completely natural. This is only possible when musicians are in charge of the transported sound, and we are extremely grateful as well as lucky to have such colleagues.
Here in South Africa, besides enjoying the sunshine and downtime with the family, this has been a time of big preparations for the spring and summer seasons. In rapid succession there will be PMW’s Every time I feel the spirit on the 11th of February, followed the week after by our second PMW recording project featuring Tekla Cunningham in fantastic solo violin repertoire called “Stylus Phantasticus”, then on March 8th with the opera class of UW a staged performance of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortilèges at Meany Studio Theater. After that intense time in Seattle I’m off to New York for a big production of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie for Julliard. This is the first time in a large scale project that the Historical Performance Department, the Vocal Arts Department and the dance department will be co-operating to co-produce a full scale staged opera. Stephen Wadsworth (famous in Seattle for his Seattle Opera Ring cycle amongst many other productions) is the stage director, with Zack Winokur (brilliant young choreographer and stage director who was here to direct the opera class Calisto last season) will choreograph. Performances at Julliard on April 17, 18, and 21 for anyone visiting New York at that time. After all that, it’s back to Seattle for a very special concert of Handel’s brilliant cantatas written for the greatest singers in Rome when he was in his early 20s (just after having composed Almira for Hamburg at the age of 19!). This concert, featuring Amanda Forsythe, will be the main subject of a later blog.