‘Christmas with the King’s Singers’ aims to leave the audience smiling

By Peter Alexander

The King's Singers. Photo by Alex Nickolaus.

The King’s Singers. Photo by Alex Nickolaus.

It’s all about the blend.

No, not coffee. Blend is how countertenor Timothy Wayne-Wright explains the unique and unmistakable sound of the King’s Singers, who bring their men’s a capella singing to Macky Auditorium for “Christmas With the King’s Singers” next Thursday (7:30 p.m. Dec. 11).

“At the core of everything we do is the blend [of the voices],” Wayne-Wright says. “We say that we go on stage as six voices but we want the audience to hear just the one voice.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

# # #

Here is a partial listing of other holiday events in the area:

A Broadway Christmas Carol
CU Theatre and Dance
Dec. 4–21, University Theatre

Nutcracker Ballet
Boulder Ballet and Longmont Symphony Orchestra
4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

December Reflections
Christmas with Ars Nova Singers
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6 and Friday Dec. 12
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder

4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, St. Paul’s Lutheran, Denver
2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, Bethany Lutheran, Cherry Hills Village

Candlelight Concert
Longmont Symphony
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14
First United Methodist Church, Longmont

The Gift of Music
Boulder Chamber Orchestra and Seicento Baroque Ensemble
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, First United Methodist, Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20, Montview Presbyterian, Denver

CU College of Music receives gift for endowed chair of Baroque music

College of Music receives its fifth $1 million-plus gift in 18 months 

By Peter Alexander

Baroque music lovers can look forward to greater riches to come.

An endowed chair of Baroque music in the College of Music is one part of a $6 million estate gift to the University of Colorado, Boulder, by a music-loving economics alumnus of the university.

The $6 million commitment by donor Eugene D. Eaton Jr. is the largest gift CU-Boulder has received since 2007. Funding from the gift will endow two faculty chairs—one in economics and the one in Baroque music—and create a travel sabbatical program for undergraduates in economics.

Boulder is already the home of the Boulder Bach Festival and the Seicento Baroque Enemble. With the addition of the CU chair in Baroque music and the expected expansion of programs in Baroque music at the College of Music, Boulder will become even more of a center for the study and performance of Baroque music.

CU College of Music Dean Robert Shay

CU College of Music Dean Robert Shay

The $2.36 million directed to the College of Music represents the fifth gift of more than $1 million received by the college in the past 18 months. Last month, the college received gifts to establish endowments for the Eklund Opera Program and the Ritter Family Classical Guitar Program. In December 2013 the college announced a scholarship endowment for top performing student-musicians and in early 2013 an endowment for the Thompson Jazz Studies Program was established.

“The CU-Boulder College of Music deeply appreciates Eugene Eaton’s significant bequest, which will enable us to expand our offerings in Baroque music through the creation of a new faculty position in this area,” Robert Shay, dean of the College of Music, said. “This gift is a real testament to the impact of music, which in this case crossed disciplinary lines and clearly touched the life of a former CU student in a lasting and meaningful way.”

Eaton earned three economics degrees from CU-Boulder: a bachelor’s in 1965, a master’s in 1967 and a doctorate in 1971. While economics engaged his mind and led to his successful career as a consultant in Alaska, it was music that riveted the economist outside of the classroom. As a student, Eaton attended many of the College of Music’s concerts and embraced deep discussions with the economics faculty; from afar he continued his interest in CU until his death in 2013.

Read the CU news release announcing Eaton’s gift here.

In the nick of time, Boulder Symphony will bring listeners ‘Out of the Darkness’

By Peter Alexander

Boulder Symphony

Boulder Symphony

It wasn’t really planned that way, but the Boulder Symphony’s next concert arrives just in the nick of time.

Only days after Boulder descended from record highs to record lows, into what feels like the depth of winter, the orchestra and conductor Devin Patrick Hughes are offering to bring listeners “Out of the Darkness” Saturday evening (7 p.m. Nov. 22 in Boulder’s First Presbyterian Church: Tickets).

Beethoven ca. 1804–05. Portrait by Joseph Willibrord Mähler.

Beethoven ca. 1804–05. Portrait by Joseph Willibrord Mähler.

The program features two particularly sunny and affirming works that are ideal antidotes to winter shock: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, and Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, performed in its original version for 13 instruments.

The concert’s title refers specifically to Beethoven’s symphony, written in 1806. At the time, Beethoven was coping with the onset of his deafness and facing the isolation from society that resulted. Considered one of the darkest periods in Beethoven’s personal life, he nevertheless produced a cheerful and uplifting symphony.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

# # #

“Out of the Darkness”

Devin Patrick Hughes

Devin Patrick Hughes

Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor

Beethoven: Symphony No. 4
Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring, original version for 13 instruments

7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22
First Presbyterian Church, Boulder

Tickets

“We do apologize for the confusion and the customer’s inconvenience”

US Airways spokesman comments on yesterday’s incident at LAX

By Peter Alexander

Earlier today I spoke with Andrew Christie, a spokesman for American Airlines and US Airways about yesterday’s incident when bassist Ranaan Meyer of Time for Three was not allowed to check his double bass on a US Airways flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Philadelphia. (Read more about the incident below.)

Christie noted that American Airlines and US Airways currently have “two different operating certificates, and we’re in the process of integrating our policies and procedures.” This explains why the two share some policies and differ with others, and it probably contributes to employees’ confusion about the actual polices they are supposed to enforce.

In the case of musical instruments, US Airways and American Airlines each state policies on their respective Web pages, and each page refers to the other for passengers of that airline. No doubt having separate policies for airlines that are in the process of integration creates confusion for the airlines and their employees, but it should not become a hindrance for musicians traveling on professional business.

Concerning the specific incident in Los Angeles, Christie said:

“I must first state that our policies are in line with the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Unfortunately confusion on our policy led to denial of checking the customer’s instrument. We are in the process of working to clarify our policies on checked musical instruments with our employees to ensure that they are being applied correctly and so that we don’t have a repeat incident such as yesterday. We do apologize for the confusion and the customer’s inconvenience. We have refunded the customer’s tickets and customer relations will be reaching out to the customer to apologize.”

I pointed out that the US Airways policy on double basses as currently stated on the their Web page is nonsensical, in that it says that “Cellos and bass violas will only be accepted as seat baggage,” meaning they cannot be transported as checked baggage. This makes no sense, because a double bass would never fit in the cabin and can only be transported as checked baggage.

Christie responded:

“That is correct, and we did try—that was our first option when he [Meyer] was working with the customer service agent in LA. Our first hope is to store it in the cabin in an extra seat, but as you stated, the double bass is far too tall and it wouldn’t clear the drop on the overhead. Then our next step is to see about checking it, and again that’s where the confusion about our policy led to the denial of checking that customer’s instrument. But now as far as the policy online, we are working to clarify that policy online as well.”

“While we worked hard to accommodate Mr. Meyers [sic] on US Airways and worked to find an alternate flight with another carrier, we did fall short of providing the level of service to our customer that they’ve come to expect, and for that we do sincerely apologize.”

A clarification and consistent application of the policy would benefit everyone—the airline, their employees, and most of all the musicians who must travel to maintain a career. In the meantime, this story—just like previous stories about traveling musicians—has spread pretty rapidly around the world. Here are a few links to other stories about the saga of Ranaan Meyer and US Airways:

The Stad

Slipped Disc

WIBC Radio, Indianapolis

WQXR Radio, New York

The Contrapuntist

Double (bass) Travel Trouble for Time for Three

US Airways refuses to allow double bass as luggage, in apparent violation of FAA regulations

By Peter Alexander

[NOTE: This story has been updated Nov. 19 to include more details. See below for additional details.]

[FURTHER NOTE: I just received a call from a spokesperson for US Airways. I will post his statement shortly.]

Time for Three at Colorado Music Festival

Time for Three at Colorado Music Festival

Just today (Nov. 18), Time for Three, the eclectic violin-violin-bass trio that has had several popular appearances at the Colorado Music Festival, encountered serious travel troubles with US Airways.

Again.

You may recall that in May of this year, the group’s violinists, Zach DePue and Nick Kendall, were refused permission to bring their violins on board a US Airways flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Fayetteville, Ark., where they were scheduled to play at the Artosphere Arts and Nature Festival.

In violation of both FAA rules and the airline’s own policies, the captain refused permission for them to carry their violins into the cabin. Nick and Zach were told that they would either have to put the instruments in the luggage compartment—something no violinist would agree to—or be booted from the flight. They were literally left standing on the tarmac, where Zach played an impromptu performance.

In that case, the violinists eventually were placed on a later flight. The captain of that flight—being either more of a music lover or more inclined to honor the FAA regulations—did not raise any objections, and they did get to their destination in time.

Time for Three: Ranaan Meyer, bass; Nick Kendall; and violinist Zach DePue. Photo by LeAnn Mueller.

Time for Three: Ranaan Meyer, bass; Nick Kendall, violin; and Zach DePue, violin. Photo by LeAnn Mueller.

Nevertheless, the refusal by the captain of the first flight to allow the violins on board created quite a stir among musicians and fans of Time for Three. Such unpredictable travel barriers make life nearly impossible for professional musicians who have to travel to pursue their careers, as many do.

Since then, the YouTube video of Zach playing Bach outside the airplane has had more the 300,000 hits, and Time for Three has marketed a t-shirt for travelling string players that has Section 403 of the FAA Modernization of Reform Act of 2012 printed on the back. It states in part, that carriers “shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin.”

Then, things died down a bit. But today, US Airways struck again. The same airline. Ignoring the same FAA regulations. But this time it was the third member of the group, bassist Ranaan Meyer, and this time it was an outright refusal to take his bass on board.

Ranaan was returning home after an appearance on “Dancing with the Stars” when the airline refused to accept his bass—packed to go with luggage, as basses normally do—at all. Appeals to the US Airways shift manager were useless. Ranaan ended up booking with Delta Airlines, which accepted him and his bass with no hesitation.

Time for Three is understandably perplexed. Like many musicians, the group travels professionally with their instruments. A lot. They cannot understand—and neither can I—why an airline would court bad publicity and the displeasure of professional travelers who cover so many miles each year. Time for Three is considering what the next step might be to assure their ability to travel professionally.

At this point, we should step back and understand what is supposed to happen with traveling string players and their instruments. Because of their value, the violins and violas played by professional musicians must never be placed in luggage. Recognizing that, both FAA regulations and most airlines’ policies allow those instruments to qualify as carry-on bags. This normally does not create a problem, although there are occasional exceptions, such as Nick and Zach’s run-in with US Airways last May.

Professional-quality cellos are equally delicate, and they again should never be packed as luggage. Because they are clearly not small enough to fit in overhead compartments, cellists usually book extra seats for their instruments. That normally does not create any problems, although there are occasional stories that crop up where traveling cellists encounter obstinate flight crews or airlines: read more here, here and here.

Double basses obviously have to be packed to go in the luggage compartment. That has long been accepted practice with most airlines and all musicians that I know. Until today, I had never heard of a bass being refused as checked baggage provided the plane was large enough to accomodate the instrument, as was the case in this incident.

As of now, I have requested comment from American Airlines/US Airways. Time for Three has received a message on Twitter asking for flight information so that the airline could “look into the incident” (quoting the email I received from a representative of Time for Three).

This story will be updated as new information becomes available. I would welcome a statement from the airline.

# # #

Nov. 19, 2014, Update: Today I would like to fill in some of the details that did not make it into yesterday’s initial story (above).

Ranaan Meyer, the bassist for Time for Three, was returning home to Philadelphia yesterday (Nov 18) from Los Angeles, where he and the other members of the trio had performed on “Dancing with the Stars.” When he went to check in his bass with US Airways, the instrument was refused as checked baggage, a decision that was appealed to the shift manager—the highest US Airways official at the checkin area—who confirmed that the bass would not be allowed on the flight. (Meyer’s video shows her walking away after declining to say anything on camera.)

In other words, he never got past the checkin counter. He was not turned away at the airplane door or at the gate—unlike previous incidents of musicians having problems boarding flights with their instruments.

Several points are important here. First: Meyer has flown with his bass as checked baggage literally hundreds of times, on many different airlines, and it has never even been questioned. This is completely standard for bass players who have to travel for their professional work. I have not yet found one who has ever had his bass turned away by an airline. Meyer reports that he often flies on smaller planes into Sun Valley, Id., one of the smaller airports on his travels, with no problems.

Second, several people have pointed out that US Airways has a written policy on musical instruments posted on their web page that seems to support the shift manager’s decision. But their policy (a) makes little sense as written and (b) would prohibit any bass players from ever buying a ticket on their airlines for professional travel. The policy states that “Cellos and bass violas will only be accepted as seat baggage,” which is nonsensical because a “bass viola” (by which I assume they mean bass viol, or double bass) certainly would not fit in an airline seat, or anywhere in the cabin. Consequently, this policy would automatically disqualify US Airways as a carrier for bass players traveling on professional business.

Ranaan Meyer and his bass arrive in Philadelphia via Delta Airlines.

Ranaan Meyer and his bass arrive in Philadelphia via Delta Airlines.

Finally, it should be noted that Meyer has a travel case for his bass that is made for the instrument to be shipped in the baggage compartment, and he expects to pay any excess baggage charges when traveling with the bass. Time for Three reports that those charges can range from as little as $150 up to as much as $400 each way. So it’s not as if he’s a free-loader.

Incidentally, bass players report that Southwest Airlines has the lowest charges for transporting their instruments—usually $150. A contact with Time for Three has written to me that “Other bass players we have worked with and that I have booked travel for always request Southwest. It is sort of known that they are the cheapest and the easiest to work with when it comes to oversized luggage!”

To finish the story of Meyer’s odyssey, he had purchased a non-stop ticket on US Airways because he had an appointment in Philadelphia at 6 p.m. In the end, Delta airlines took Meyer and his bass with no questions asked. He was routed through Atlanta and arrived in Philadelphia at 5:20, just barely giving him time to meet his appointment.

No lasting damage was done, but Meyer, Time for Three, and musicians all around the country are left with questions in their minds whether they would be turned away in similar circumstances. This creates a very difficult environment for the music industry, one that sooner or later should be resolved, for the benefit of airlines—who can’t want constant stories about their mistreatment of musicians trickling out—and of the professionals who depend upon travel for their careers.

 # # #

NOTE: The original story has been edited to correct the spelling of Nick Kendall on 18 November.

Longmont Symphony Brings “Romantic Russia” to the Front Range

Crowd-pleasers by Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff are on the bill

By Peter Alexander

Set design for a ballet production of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, but Léon Bakst.

Set design for a ballet production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, by Léon Bakst.

Scheherazade is in the air.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s brilliant orchestral showpiece has never been more popular anywhere than it seems to be in Boulder right now. The Boulder Philharmonic played it on their season-opening concert. The CU Symphony has it in their plans for the season. It was performed at the Colorado Music Festival as recently as 2013.

And Saturday the Longmont Symphony Orchestra and conductor Robert Olson—not in Boulder but an easy drive up the Diagonal—perform Scheherazade on a program titled “Romantic Russia” (7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 in Longmont’s Vance Brand Civic Auditorium).

To complete the Romantic—and impressively virtuosic—program of Russian music, Colorado’s Katie Mahan will be the soloist with the orchestra for Rachmaninoff’s daunting Third Piano Concerto.

Robert Olson, conductor of the Longmont Symphony

Robert Olson, conductor of the Longmont Symphony

Like most pieces, Scheherazade goes in and out of favor with orchestras for no apparent reason, but for Olson, it is always a great piece to program. “From where I’ve stood, Scheherazade is always a big winner,” he says.

“It’s (a), incredibly popular with audiences, for all the obvious reasons, and (b), it’s a showpiece for orchestras. Usually, orchestras don’t like to play big audience pieces too much, but I think this one they do.”

One reason Scheherazade has remained popular is that Rimsky-Korsakov wrote extravagantly colorful music to describe “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” a “Festival at Baghdad” and the love of “The Young Prince and the Young Princess.” It ends with a storm at sea and a shipwreck, all portrayed in music of great brilliance and orchestral virtuosity.

Composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Portrait by Valentine Serov.

Composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Portrait by Valentine Serov.

The Longmont Symphony, which Olson says stands on the boundary between community orchestra and regional orchestra, is more eager to tackle the big favorites than some of the larger orchestras that may have played them dozens of times before. In the case of Scheherazade, most of the players know the music well, even if they don’t have many opportunities to perform it.

“I would guess that there must be at least a half a dozen of the instruments that when they take an orchestral audition, one of the biggest excerpts (they are asked to play) will be out of this piece,” he explains. “For most of the players, it’s a great piece. And it’s well within our reach.”

Olson says that part of the fascination, and the challenge, of playing Scheherazade comes from the story that the music tells. The heroine, you may recall, has to entertain her cruel husband or she will be beheaded. To stay alive, she tells 1001 fantastic tales for 1001 nights.

“In our first rehearsal, I just stopped and said, ‘Look, we all know the story,’” he says. “The minute she bores this guy, her head’s off, so you can never play the same statement twice. If you play it the same twice, you’re dead!”

Rachmaninoff around the time of the Third Piano Concerto

Rachmaninoff around the time of the Third Piano Concerto

The Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto is one of the great war horses of the pianist’s repertoire, and it is also a piece that Olson enjoys conducting. “I’ve never done his Fourth (Concerto), so I don’t know it,” he says. “But of the big three (concertos by Rachmaninoff), this is my favorite.”

(In an interesting historical note, considering that Olson is acclaimed for conducting Mahler and founding the Colorado Mahlerfest, Rachmaninoff played his Third Concerto with the New York Philharmonic on Jan. 16, 1910. The conductor was Gustav Mahler.)

The extensive rubato that Rachmaninoff calls for—places where the soloist can slow down to extend phrases, or speed up to hurry ahead—pose a challenge to the conductor and players to keep together. Otherwise, Olson does not think the concerto is hard for the orchestra to play. “From a technical standpoint the concerto is not unusually difficult,” he says.

The same cannot be said of the piano part, which is considered one of the great virtuoso challenges for any pianist. Rachmaninoff, a pianist of prodigious technical abilities, wrote the concerto in Russia in 1909 and premiered it himself later that year in New York. But for years, few other pianists were willing to tackle its technical demands. The dedicatee, Josef Hoffman, never played it in public. Only in the 1930s, when the fearless virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz took it up, did it become popular.

Pianist Katie Mahan.

Pianist Katie Mahan.

The soloist in Longmont, Katie Mahan, is a Denver native who has appeared with orchestras and won acclaim around the world, in addition to many performances from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs along the I-25 corridor. In one of those performances a few years ago, she played the Rachmaninoff Third Concerto with the Timberline Symphony—now the Boulder Symphony—in Niwot.

Olson says he is looking forward to working with Mahan “I’ve never met her, nor have I heard her,” he says. However, “she comes with a really good reputation from everyone I know who knows her. I’m excited because of the word of mouth.”

If you already know and love classical music, this program gives you the opportunity to hear some familiar and well loved music. If you don’t, so much the better: you can be wowed by these brilliant and popular showpieces for the first time.

Just don’t expect to hear anything the same way twice.

# # #

“Romantic Russia”
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Robert Olson, conductor

Longmont Symphony

Longmont Symphony

Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3
Katie Mahan, piano

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

TICKETS

Michael Butterman ads another contract extension to his resumé

Shreveport Symphony follows Boulder Philharmonic by extending the maestro’s contract

By Peter Alexander

Michael Butterman

Michael Butterman

Last month the Boulder Philharmonic announced that Music Director Michael Butterman had extended his contract with the orchestra for five years, through the 2018–19 season.

Now the Shreveport, La., Symphony Orchestra has announced they have extended Butterman’s contract with that orchestra an additional four years, through the 2017–18 season. Butterman has been music director in Shreveport, where he lives with his family, since 2005.

“Michael has become a celebrity in our community,” Elizabeth (Libby) Siskon, president of the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors, said. “He is extremely well regarded and well-loved throughout the Shreveport area.” Butterman is credited with helping resolve a labor dispute at the orchestra during the 2008–09 season.

“I am extremely proud of the work we’ve accomplished together during my years with the Shreveport Symphony,” Butterman commented.

In addition to his positions with the Boulder and Shreveport orchestras, Butterman is the resident conductor of the Jacksonville (Fla.) Symphony Orchestra and the principal conductor for education and community engagement for the Rochester (New York) Philharmonic Orchestra, the first position of its kind in the United States. And he recently conducted his first performances as music director of the newly formed Pennsylvania Philharmonic.

Read the full news release from the Shreveport Symphony Board of Directors here.